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The Biggest Favor You Can Do for Yourself and Your Family

Create an estate plan.

True or false: Estate planning is important for an 18-year-old high school graduate who owns nothing but a backpack.

(Cue the Jeopardy theme.)

Answer: True.

Everyone 18 years of age or older needs an estate plan — regardless of wealth. Everyone. No exceptions.

Sure, people with $100 million have estate planning needs, but so does that 18-year-old — and everyone in between.

Here’s why: If death occurs, who gets the backpack? Even poor high school grads have personal assets — such as photographs on Facebook or other social media sites. If your son or daughter suddenly passed, wouldn’t you want access to those photographs?

Without any sort of official directive, those sites could lock you out forever. This is a key reason why young adults need estate planning: to explain who is to inherit their (few) assets and online accounts.

And here are other basic questions you should consider: Do I want to be buried or cremated? Any other final wishes?

All this, of course, assumes death. But that might not happen. Instead, severe injury or illness might occur. That’s why all adults 18 or older need a medical directive. This legal document explains your preferences for medical treatment if you are on life support. Do you want machines to keep you alive through heroic means, on the theory that your doctors will find a way to restore you to health tomorrow? Or would you rather be allowed to pass away peacefully, painlessly and quietly with loved ones at your bedside?

There’s no right or wrong answer to such questions. But without a medical directive stating your wishes, your family might start arguing. That’s the last thing anyone needs.

But the medical directive isn’t enough. After all, if you’re in a coma or unable to communicate, you can’t tell the doctors your preferences or respond to their questions. That’s why you also need a durable general power of attorney. Through it, you legally authorize a family member or someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf, enabling that person to require doctors to honor your medical directive.

Together, these two documents can ease family angst and avoid arguments at a time when everyone is under great stress. As you can see, these documents are important even if you don’t have much money. You have people who love you, and that’s why even 18-year-olds need estate planning.

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