What legal documents should an 18 year old have?

Turning 18 is an important milestone in anybody’s life. It is usually the age at which young men and women graduate from high school, and, if they so choose, to begin their college careers. Others start looking for “real” jobs, and many young people move out on their own for the first time. 

For all these reasons, many teenagers look forward to their 18th birthday, since it means that they are officially an “adult”.  But while it is a momentous occasion filled with promise, turning 18 also carries with it some pretty big responsibilities. They can vote in elections. They can join the military. They can sign documents on their own, such as leases, student loans, credit card agreements, and contracts.

And even though Mom and Dad are often there to help them transition, the fact is, in the eyes of the law, Mom and Dad no longer have legal authority to govern their 18-year old. They can no longer make healthcare decisions, or have access to their child’s medical information. They don’t have the right to know what agreements their children make, or what waivers they sign. They don’t even have the right to know the grades their children are earning in college. And this is true even if Mom and Dad are footing the bill for college and medical insurance.

Estate Documents Can Allow You to Give Your Child Help and Support When Needed

As much as young men and women may enjoy their new adult status, the fact is, there are many things that they may not be so thrilled about having to handle on their own. Accordingly, there are a few estate documents that children should execute that allow their parents to be there when they need help. Here are a few to consider:

Health Care Proxy/HIPAA Authorization: As noted above, once a child turns 18, parents have no authority to make medical decisions on their child’s behalf, and no access to their child’s medical records. This means that, if the child is in an accident and is unable to express his or her wishes, the parents have no say in what happens, and may not even be able to find out their child’s medical status. By executing a Healthcare Proxy/HIPAA Authorization, the parents could step in in this situation to assist their child, make decisions, and have access to their medical information, just as if the child were still a minor. The child could also use the Health Care Proxy to express his or her wishes about what medical interventions they would allow or disallow in the event the situation involved a procedure that would be life-saving but seriously debilitating.

Will and Trust: As uncommon as it is, the sad truth is that even young people occasionally pass away. And while some young adults may not have a large estate, a lot of them do have at least some assets–a bank account, a car, a computer–that have value. If they do not have a will, then the property will go to whomever the state’s intestate laws dictate; in most cases, this means the parents. But even if that is what the child might want to happen, he or she should put that wish in writing. The child can also express other wishes there, including funeral arrangements or special bequests to friends and siblings.

Alternatively, the child could instead create a trust for their assets, and designate whom he or she wishes to manage it should he or she become incapacitated or pass away. These documents would also be useful vehicles for a child to express his or her instructions about closing down e-mail or other online accounts that will allow someone else to take care of these loose ends, with a list of accounts and passwords.

Durable Power of Attorney: If a child becomes mentally or physically incapacitated, the child can designate a parent as DPOA to make financial and care decisions on his or her behalf. Without the DPOA, a court may have to appoint a legal guardian, and there is no guarantee that a court would appoint a parent or anyone else that the child would trust.

Planning for the Future

It may seem overly cautious to put these legal documents in place, and the truth is, you hope that they won’t be needed for a long time. But if something happens, all parties will be glad they have taken care of them. Executing these documents can give everyone peace of mind. 

Further, creating these documents will never be wasted effort. As the child grows up, he or she can make changes along the way to accommodate new life circumstances. It is a good practice to instill in your children the need to make prudent plans for their future and the future of their own children and families.
If you would like advice and assistance in helping your 18-year old to put together some estate documents, contact the estate attorneys at eLegacy. We are happy to help people of all ages and all financial situations to create estate plans that give them the security they need to face the future, whatever it brings.