These are the estate planning must-do's before children turn 18

(Crain's Cleveland Business) Fall is right around the corner, which means it is time to plan for school. For some students, this coming semester means starting college and possibly leaving home for the first time.

Although parents may not realize it, by law, once a child attains age 18, he/she is considered an adult with personal privacy rights. Parents must face the harsh reality that their control over the child is largely lost and access to private information may be strictly limited, even if the parents are still the ones paying for tuition and carrying the medical insurance. 

Such information restrictions complicate matters for parents should an accident or illness involve their child. However, advance planning can address these situations before they occur and may mitigate some of the stress associated with unexpected disasters.

Health care power of attorney

First, children reaching the age of 18 (whether they are going off to college or not) are strongly urged to execute a health care power of attorney which grants an Agent (typically a parent or guardian) access to the child's medical records in the event the child becomes incapacitated. This document may also enable the Agent to make medical decisions for the incapacitated party, if necessary. Without this document, the Agent (even a parent) may need to access the courts to obtain any information related to the child 's medical state or to make health care decisions on behalf of the student.

Living will

Under Ohio law, the living will controls end-of-life decisions. This document allows children to make their wishes known regarding whether they shall be sustained by extraordinary means, such as ventilators and feeding tubes, in the event such care becomes necessary. The child executing the document may also make his/her wishes known regarding organ donation and the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Essentially, this document offers incapacitated individuals the opportunity to control their care. The living will becomes effective when the patient is diagnosed to be in a permanently unconscious state or terminally ill. 

Durable (financial) power of attorney

In addition to a health care power of attorney, children should consider executing a durable power of attorney in favor of a trusted family member. Like the health care power described above, the durable power of attorney allows the child to appoint an Agent to act on his/her behalf in legal and financial matters, should he/she be unable to do so. Many people overlook this critical document, believing that their young adult children lack the financial resources to justify this type of planning. But having the proper paperwork in place makes it easier to manage the unexpected when dealing with banks, universities and other related institutions.


Depending on a child's assets, or potential inheritances, the child may need a will. Estate planning is not as common for younger people but should be considered. Wills control the disposition of assets upon one's death, rather than leaving any remaining assets to be disposed of according to state law.

It is important to note that all of the documents discussed in this article are revocable. Planning now does not mean planning forever. As time goes by and family dynamics change, these documents can be amended or revoked.

Personal data

Finally, the child should leave a disaster recovery folder behind. This folder should contain the documents discussed along with a list of bank accounts, online accounts, credit cards and insurance policies (if any). The folder should include instructions for accessing the necessary accounts, along with login and passwords. The folder should also include a list of the contacts with whom the student has worked, such as attorneys, bankers or insurance agents. This will make things easier for the family if it is necessary to act under the powers granted. The best planning includes making sure the documents are available to those who are authorized to act when needed.


It's never too early to plan ahead, especially today, when families are more mobile and pulled apart geographically due to school and career choices.


More Articles