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3 Vital Estate Planning Documents For High School Graduates

student in a graduation toga

With the arrival of summer, many young people across the country have just reached a key milestone: high school graduation. If you have a child claiming their diploma, now is the time to prepare them for life after leaving the nest.

Graduating high school is a significant accomplishment. However, it comes with serious responsibilities that your child probably isn’t thinking much about right now. Once your child turns 18, they become a legal adult, and specific areas of their lives that were once under your control will be solely their responsibility.

While your child will now be a legal adult, you still have essential parental duties. Yet, if you don’t support your child to step into adulthood with legal documents to help both of you, it can be challenging and costly for you to help them in the event of an emergency.

For instance, should your child get into a severe car accident and require hospitalization, you would no longer have the automatic authority to make decisions about his or her medical treatment or handle their financial matters. In fact, without legal documentation, you wouldn’t even be able to access his or her medical records or bank accounts without a court order.

To address this vulnerability and ensure your family never gets stuck in an unnecessary court process, before your kids move out or head off to college, have a conversation about estate planning and have them sign the following three documents.

Advance Health Care Directive

The first document your child needs is an advance health care directive. This allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the immediate legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves.

For example, the advance health care directive would allow you to decide about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is knocked unconscious in a car accident or falls into a coma due to a debilitating illness.

Without an advance health care directive in place, if your child suffers a severe accident or illness that requires hospitalization and you need access to their medical records to make decisions about their treatment, you’d have to petition the court to become their legal conservator. While a parent is typically the court’s first choice for a conservator, the conservatorship process can be slow and expensive.

And due to HIPAA laws, once your child becomes 18, no one—not even parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission. But an adequately drafted advance health care directive will include a signed HIPAA authorization, so you can immediately access their medical records to make informed decisions about their treatment.

Living Will

While the advance health care directive allows you to make healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf during their incapacity, a living will provides specific guidance on how your child’s medical decisions should be made, particularly at the end of life.

For example, a living will allows your child to advise if and when they want life support removed should they ever require it. In addition to documenting how your child requests their medical care be managed, a living will also include instructions about who should visit them in the hospital and even what kind of food they would want to have provided. For example, if your child is a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or takes specific supplements. These are all things that should be considered and recorded in their living will.

Living Will provisions can be included within the advance health care directive itself. That is the approach that we generally take.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Should your child become incapacitated, you may also need the ability to access and manage their finances, and this requires your child to grant you a durable financial power of attorney.

A durable financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying their tuition, applying for student loans, paying their rent, negotiating (or re-negotiating) a lease, managing their bank accounts, and collecting government benefits if necessary. Without this document, you’ll have to petition the court for such authority.

Start Adulthood The Right Way

Before your kids head out into the world, make sure they’ve got the proper planning in place. By doing so, you are modeling good financial stewardship and setting them up right from the start.

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