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Should an 18 year-old have an estate plan?

Teenagers today have cars, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and any other gadget or gizmo you could imagine. So, why not an estate plan?

When your child or grandchild turns 18 years old there are a few important events that take place in his or her life. He or she may be getting ready to begin college, take a year off to travel the world, or maybe entering into the workforce and getting a job.

From a legal standpoint, however, the most important event is that he or she is now legally an adult. And for better or worse, that little kid you remember drinking bottles and learning to walk is now legally in charge of his or her own life. Yikes!

Ironically and unfortunately, this new found legal status usually comes at a time when many teenagers venture out into the world on their own for the very first time. One way to ensure that your child or grandchild can still be protected from the frightening unknowns of the world is to help them set up an estate plan.

Although most 18 year-olds do not have a substantial amount of assets, every 18 year-old can benefit from an estate plan comprised of a Health Care Proxy, Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney, and a Last Will and Testament.

If you disagree, then let’s consider the following scenario:

Thomas Smith has always made his parents very proud. His academic success in high school helped him earn a partial scholarship to SUNY Binghamton where he is about to start his second semester as a freshman. After Thanksgiving break, Tom and some friends were driving back to school when Tom was seriously injured in car accident. He was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.

Upon learning about the accident, Mr. and Mrs. Smith rushed up to the hospital to help their son only to be told that the doctors could not speak with them regarding Tom’s medical condition, nor could the doctor honor any decisions they requested on his behalf because Mr. and Mrs. Smith did not have the legal authority. Tom survived the surgery but remained unconscious with a feeding tube. Mr. and Mrs. Smith were beside themselves and felt helpless not only because of their son’s condition, but because they could not legally do anything to help him.

In the meantime, paperwork for Tom’s financial aid needed to be submitted, his car insurance and credit card bill needed to be paid, but no one had the legal authority to handle these concerns.

After a few days, the couple spoke with a local attorney about commencing a guardianship proceeding to be able to make decisions on Tom’s behalf. They were informed that the process will not only be time-consuming but expensive.

These legal issues could have been avoided, including the time-consuming and expensive guardianship proceeding, if Tom had executed a Health Care Proxy, Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney.

It may be difficult to look at your child as independent, and in many ways they probably have a long way to go, but legally once they turn 18 years old they are an adult. The law makes no distinction between an 18 year old and a 95 year old. That’s why every adult should have an estate plan.

Make sure to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to gain peace of mind that you and your family are prepared for the future and to avoid a scenario such as the one mentioned above.

By Eric J. Einhart – Guest Blogger

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