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Estate planning essentials for those 18 and up

As children grow, parents are there to help them through difficult times and shield them from harm. As a child graduates from high school and heads off to college or the working world, a parent's role changes dramatically. In many cases, for the first time a child is living on their own in a dorm room or apartment.

Another milestone is reached when a child turns 18 and officially becomes a legal adult. While these early adult years are full of excitement for most young adults, there are some important estate planning matters that should be considered.

Prior to turning 18, a parent or legal guardian is able to make decisions for a child. This all changes, however, once a child becomes a legal adult. While no one likes to contemplate being in a serious accident, the fact is that such unfortunate events do occur.

Say an 18-year-old is out at a college party with friends. Upon crossing the street on the walk home, a speeding car hits the 18-year-old. As the 18-year-old's parents arrive to see their child laying in a hospital bed with critical injuries they learn they are not legally able to see his or her medical records. They are also not allowed to make decisions with regard to their child's medical care.

This scenario illustrates why everyone regardless of age, needs a living will and health care proxy. Such documents express an individual's wishes in the event they are incapacitated and designates a representative who is responsible for making decisions with regard to medical intervention, treatment and care.

It's never too early, or late, to start thinking about estate planning matters. Taking the time to think and make important decisions related to "what if" scenarios can help ensure an individual's wishes are respected and best interests protected in the event the unthinkable occurs.

Source: NBC News, "Even young adults should start estate planning," Sheyna Steiner, May 7, 2013

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