Every 18-year-old Needs an Estate Plan

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning
As your children approach high school graduation, you may want to consider how to best protect and prepare your young-adult children for life's unexpected surprises and pitfalls. We suggest that one of the best gifts a parent can give an adult child is a solid collection of basic estate planning documents.

It might seem less thrilling to an 18-year-old to receive an estate plan instead of a car or a pre-paid debit card, but it's probably the smartest and most powerful gift a parent can give.

Consider this: If your client's college freshman were to become hospitalized and incapacitated without having powers of attorney documents, then her parents will have no clear way to handle her medical decisions and no access to her bank accounts to help pay her bills.

Unexpected times of crisis can be made less stressful for parents of young adults by pre-emptively putting in place legal documents created by an experienced estate planning attorney.

Bare Minimum

According to a Harris Poll released last year, 64 percent of Americans don't have a will. That's alarming to us, because we understand how the anxiety and grief experienced by a family in response to a loved one's incapacitation or death will be exasperated by additional stress when there is either no or poor planning in place. That's why we encourage our clients to create estate plans for their children upon age turning age 18.

While most of these teens won't have assets requiring a trust or a complicated package of documents, we believe any young adult just starting out in the world does need - at a bare minimum - the following:

•    last will and testament 
•    durable financial power of attorney
•    healthcare power of attorney
•    advanced healthcare directive (living will) 
•    HIPAA release (so medical professionals may communicate with the person named as health care power of attorney)
•    Organ Donation Form so your child can save up to eight lives and improve the lives of many others

For parents with assets or specific needs that required the creation of a trust to carry out their wishes, it is well worth considering having a plan drafted for their young-adult child that carries the same level of protections and specific guidelines as the parents' trust, especially if that beneficiary is their only heir.

Don't DIY

No, you might be thinking that you "just don't want to spend a lot of money" on an estate plan for your adult child and you might be tempted to look for fill-in-the-blank documents from the Internet or to buy an estate plan kit from an online provider. 

That would be a majorly poor decision.

Do-it-yourself plans repeatedly fail when challenged in court. Laws regarding estate plans vary greatly from state to state. A non-attorney will find it incredibly challenging to properly execute a do-it-yourself will. Defective forms or violations of state law are not apparent to most people when their documents are signed. It might be only after a death when such problems are discovered, which is too late to revise documents. Parents who used an online will service for a child's plan may find that the will devised from a kit will NOT accomplish what they intended and a court won't allow changes. 

Talk It Out 

A basic estate plan prepared by an attorney for a young adult doesn't have to cost much - but the investment is priceless. If you have questions about a specific family's needs, contact our office and we'd be glad to speak with everyone involved.