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The 'estate planning' documents your 18-year-old needs

If you've got a child turning 18 next year, you're likely concerned with things like how you're going to pay for college and how you'll adjust to them being away from home. You're probably not thinking about estate planning for them. That's many decades down the road, right?

In fact, as a legal adult, it's wise for your child to have a couple of documents traditionally associated with estate planning in place, with representatives given the authority to enforce them and your child's wishes. Once they turn 18, you'll no longer have the legal authority to make medical, legal and financial decisions for them if they become incapacitated and unable to speak or act for themselves.

One of these documents is what in Tennessee is called an Advance Directive for Health Care. Other states have their own versions of this document. It allows people to make their wishes known for things like under what circumstances they'd like life-sustaining measures to be continued or ended. They can name a health care agent to oversee their treatment and help enforce their wishes as detailed in the advance directive.

The second key element of estate planning for newly minted legal adults is a power of attorney (POA) document. This names the person(s) authorized to handle financial and legal matters for them if they're unable to. Once your child turns 18, you no longer have the right to make decisions for them. A POA will give you (or someone else of your child's choosing) that right.

Of course, no one enjoys thinking about the possibility of their child having a catastrophic accident or a debilitating illness. However, young people become victims of catastrophic car crashes and other accidents all the time that leave them in a state where they can't speak for themselves.

By having these documents in place, you can help things go a little more smoothly should the unimaginable happen. Your estate planning attorney can assist you in helping your child handle this aspect of their new legal adulthood.

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