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Estate Planning is the Ultimate Gift for Adult Kids

Aug. 10, 2015
Personal Finance
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By Michael Chamberlain

Learn more about Michael on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Your adult child’s birthday is coming up, and you’re experiencing the annual quandary: What will I give this year? Let me suggest a gift your kids would never, ever think of getting for themselves, but which could possibly even save their lives.

The gift: estate planning documents. That’s right: an advanced health care directive, a power of attorney, a HIPAA release and a will.

You may well be grimacing and muttering, “Are you kidding? That’s not a gift. I give my kid that, and he or she is going to freak.” Yet it’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give.

Here’s a scenario I hope you’ll never have to face, but which is entirely possible: Your 22-year old daughter is in a car accident and suffers a severe head injury. A decision needs to be made about the medical course of action — but she can’t make it, because she’s unconscious.

Who’s going to make this very important, maybe life-or-death decision? You? Your spouse? Maybe her longstanding boyfriend? Who has the legal authority? What if there’s a disagreement in the family as to what’s best?

Now imagine that after the surgery, your daughter remains in a coma. Her bills still need to be paid, and her tax return is due next week. Who is empowered to handle these tasks? Without the proper documents, little can be done short of a conservatorship (in which a court appoints a protector or guardian).

And who has the authority to get the necessary medical information to deal with her growing pile of health insurance claims? Medical facilities and providers are precluded by law from providing such information without the proper written authorization.

Most parents would agree that their adult children should have basic estate planning documents in order. But most young adults don’t, usually for three very basic reasons:

  1. Awareness. Young adults often don’t recognize how important these plans are.
  2. Cost. Drawing up such documents means legal fees, and there are always other ways to spend money.
  3. Time. Young adults think they’ve got plenty of it — and besides, there’s always something more fun to do!

As someone older, wiser and more experienced, you can certainly see the value and importance of estate planning. So here are a couple of options for giving your adult children this invaluable gift this year.

Option A: Introduce them to your estate planning attorney. This might overcome obstacle No. 1 above, but not Nos. 2 and 3. Offer to pay for the documents, and that leaves just reason No. 3. (And if you do not have estate planning documents yourself, then get to an estate planning attorney ASAP and set a good example!)

Option B: Go the do-it-yourself route (although this is never recommended if your adult children have their own kids or if they own real estate).

  • Download standardized forms online, for free.
  • Sit down with your child and help complete the forms.
  • Drive your child to a notary to sign the documents. (Total cost in California is about $30, plus gas to get to the notary.)

Option B overcomes all three of the above reasons why your kids might not be protected by these essential documents.

In California, these forms are standardized, and you can find them on various websites, such as those of the California attorney general’s office or the California State Bar Association. Documents should be available in other states, as well.

You’ll feel better knowing your grown children have protection in place. And they’ll feel more adult having addressed these important matters.

Now, even with all these good feelings, you might still want to have a backup gift (or two, or three) just in case they’re underwhelmed with the generosity behind these documents.

Image via iStock.