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Estate Planning for High School Graduates

This spring and summer, many of our clients will watch their children graduate from high school. Many of these fresh graduates will move away to attend college, work new jobs, or perform volunteer work. Some parents are surprised to learn that even an 18-year-old needs to do some basic estate planning. For the graduation gift that keeps on giving, we suggest an Advance Health Care Directive and Durable Power of Attorney.

According to the American Bar Association, more then 2/3 of Americans do NOT have an Advance Directive. Even some mature adults struggle to contemplate end-of-life decisions. It can be even harder for a child who is in the prime of life to do so. However, remember that many infamous cases have involved young people in their twenties- like Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, and Terri Schiavo – who had accidents, lacked Advance Directives, and ended up with as many as 15 years of litigation.

In the eyes of California law, a child is considered an adult on their 18th birthday. Some parents receive a rude awakening to this change when they call the doctor’s office and discover that they no longer have access to health records. The same is true for working with banks on financial matters on a child’s behalf. Parents are often shocked at the legal barriers imposed once their child reaches the magical age of 18.

Think about this: What would happen if your adult child went to college in another state and had a medical emergency? Without a signed Advance Health Care Directive, you will not have any access to medical information regarding your child’s condition, nor will you have legal authority to make health care decisions for them.

Another important document is the Durable Power of Attorney (POA). A POA allows a parent to act on a child’s behalf regarding financial decisions and any contracts. During your child’s semester studying abroad, who will deal with issues on the car she left behind? Who will sign a lease for a new apartment he will need to live in when he gets home? A POA gives you, as a parent and nominated agent, the power to act your child’s behalf.

For assistance drafting these documents for your adult children, always seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney.

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