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Estate Planning for Young Adults

Teenagers, rejoice! At age 18, your government says you are an adult and your parents have no legal ability to make decisions for you. Just what you want, right? No more nagging about cleaning up after yourself, making something of your life, and sitting up straight.

Parents, beware! When your child turns age 18, your government says your child is an adult and you no longer have the legal ability to make decisions for him/her. Are you accustomed to contacting your child’s school directly? Handling your child’s banking needs? Accompanying your child to his/her doctor’s appointments? You no longer have a free pass to do any of those things.

While teenagers might revel in their adulthood, the practicality of a parent’s rights ceasing overnight has consequences.

It may be mildly frustrating to be told you cannot see your college student’s grades without his or her permission, particularly if you are footing the bill. But imagine your frustration if your (adult) child were to have a medical emergency – and you were stonewalled. You would want to know about your child’s medical condition, make decisions as to treatment, access your child’s financial records and accounts, and handle your child’s affairs – all those things you have been doing for the first 18 years of your child’s life as a matter of course. Unless your now-adult child has had an attorney prepare legal documents that name you to make medical and financial decisions on his/her behalf, you probably will have to go to court and ask for permission to obtain the information you need to help your child.

Most 18 year olds believe they are invincible, and the idea of having their own legal documents is the last thing on their minds. The necessity of getting these documents may be yet another life lesson you impart as a parent. Start the discussion early, and encourage other parents to have this conversation with their children.

In the Event of Incapacity 

1. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care gives you (or another adult your child trusts) legal authority to make informed consent medical care decisions for your child if your child is unable to make them for him/herself.

2. A Living Will gives you (or another adult your child trusts) legal authority to enforce his/her end-of-life (pull-the-plug or don’t pull-the-plug) decisions if your child is unable to communicate his/her wishes when the time comes. Do you know what your child would like to have happen if this situation were to occur? Your child may not know of Terri Schiavo, but you probably remember.

3. A Durable General Power of Attorney gives you (or another adult your child trusts) legal authority to handle your child’s financial and civil rights without court interference. (A ‘regular’ power of attorney ends at incapacity; a ‘durable’ power of attorney remains valid through incapacity – your child wants a durable power of attorney.)

In the Event of Death

Most young adults do not have substantial assets, so a simple Will may suffice. A Will allows your child to designate who should receive his/her assets and belongings in the event of his/her death. Without a Will, Florida law dictates where his/her assets will go. If your child is unmarried, you and your child’s other parent will share his/her wealth. What if your child has no relationship with his/her other parent and doesn’t want that deadbeat parent to inherit anything? Your child must hire a lawyer and write a Will to say so.

After the Documents Have Been Signed

Your young adult needs to make sure that you know where his/her original legal documents physically are located, so you easily may access them if needed. S/he should make a list of accounts and online passwords, print the list and put it with the original legal documents – a hard copy is important in case his/her computer is lost or stolen. If an online back-up system is used, be sure you will know how to access it. Don’t forget instructions for accessing online bank and credit card, PayPal, eBay, Facebook photo-sharing, gaming and other social media accounts. If your child has anything out there that s/he does not want you to see, s/he should either get rid of it now (the lawyer’s suggestion) or ask a friend to delete files or remove things if something happens. Finally, your young adult should update these documents as life changes. You may need to help remind him/her. You are the parent, after all.

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