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Rights of Passage for your 18 year old.

Now, more than ever, estate planning should be a rite of passage for every 18-year-old.

Your 18-year-old is an adult, and you, as their parent, have no inherent right to see their grades, talk to their doctors and review medical records and options, access their bank accounts, or speak to creditors and insurance carriers without basic estate planning documents in place. Simple estate planning should start early and must change and evolve as your family builds wealth, enters relationships, leaves relationships, and as the laws and times vary.

The most basic and essential estate planning documents for every adult (even your 18-year-old) include:

  1. a Will (even if all your child has is a car and a small checking account or credit card);
  2. a Power of Attorney (to manage bank accounts, bills, and access college information;) and,
  3. a Health Care Proxy and Directive (to manage health care decisions in the event of an accident, hospitalization or disability)

The risks are real. Accidents account for 41 percent of deaths among people between 15 and 24, and motor vehicle accidents alone account for almost a quarter of all deaths of young adults. A properly drafted and executed health care proxy and directive will allow you to speak to doctors, make medical decisions, and consider treatment options on behalf of your adult child. Similarly, a power of attorney will allow you to deal with your child’s banks, colleges, creditors, landlords, and other third parties with whom your child has business dealings.

So, even if your adult child is still on your health insurance, still covered by your car insurance and even if you still claim them as dependents on your tax returns and pay their college tuition, room and board you have no legal right to speak for them or to advocate on their behalf without a power of attorney and a health care proxy and directive in place. In the absence of estate planning documents, a parent might need court approval to act on their child’s behalf through the adult guardianship process which can be expensive, time-consuming, emotionally draining and complicated, especially if there is a disagreement between parents of the adult child such as with divorced parents.

In addition, already existing documents should be reviewed periodically but especially now, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many traditional documents include language about life support and the use of intubation or ventilators, which may not be appropriate if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 as a percentage of seriously ill COVID -19 patients will need a ventilator to survive the virus.

So, while we live in very uncertain times, and many things seem out of our control, some things are still in your control and can provide great peace of mind. Certain rights of passage can still go on, even in a pandemic. Virtual meetings, remote communications, and mobile signings have become the norm, and, just like prom, graduation, and entering college, it should be the norm for every 18-year-old to sign a Health Care Proxy and Directive as well as a Power of Attorney and a Last Will and Testament.

Christina Hardman-O’Neal has been counseling and advising clients on the full spectrum of Estate and Trust Issues in New Jersey. Her areas of practice include will contents, trust, estate tax, probate, kinship matters and estate administration.

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