If you are like most parents with college-bound children, the last thing on your mind is estate planning. You may be sad to see your baby leave for college, or you may be dismantling their room so you can have your own space. You may also be lamenting the fact that you have to stalk them on Facebook just to know if they are ok.
But what would you do if your child became incapacitated while he or she was at school? Now that he or she is 18, you do not have access to their financial accounts unless you are a co-owner. You may not be able to get access to their medical records (thanks to HIPAA). If your child handles their finances online, you may not even see copies of statements and bills unless you have access to their online accounts.
I’m not suggesting that you hack into your child’s accounts. I’m simply suggesting that even young adults need basic estate planning documents in place. A financial durable power of attorney (one that is effective immediately) will allow you access to their financial accounts. This document is especially helpful if you are the one paying their bills – either with your own money or managing their money on their behalf.
In some cases, your child’s college may not be able (or willing) to give you information about their account even where you are the one paying the bills.
If your child had a significant health event, would you be able to make medical decisions for him or her? If that event were significant, do you know your child’s preferences on end-of-life treatments, such as artificial nutrition and hydration? Would your child want to donate his or her organs? Having this discussion with your child when no health crisis is pending is the best time. That way you will know your child’s beliefs on types of treatment he or she would prefer if such a catastrophic event were to occur. Then, having a health care power of attorney in place would allow you to implement your child’s wishes.
And let’s not forget a basic Last Will and Testament. No estate plan is complete without a basic Will. If your child has managed to accumulate any assets (perhaps as a result of gifts from your or others), having a Will in place will ensure that the assets pass to the right party or parties. For example, your child may prefer to leave those assets to siblings or a charity rather than put assets back into your estate.
While these discussions are painful for any parent, they are necessary discussions to have with your adult children. By starting to think about these important issues – and having the tough discussions – you are setting them on a path to keep their estate plan in order.