Q.  Our grandson will be graduating from college soon, and we would like to get him a gift which recognizes the beginning of his adult life and career.  We thought that something of a “legal” nature might be worthwhile, and wondered if you have any ideas?

A.  Great thought and indeed I do.  Why not arrange through your attorney to provide him with a basic estate planning package, which would include an Advance Health Care Directive, a Durable Power Of Attorney and a simple Will. The message, of course, is that he has now formally entered the world of adulthood and needs to take prudent steps to protect himself and his loved ones from the unexpected.  He would also learn that these essential “life planning documents” need to be kept up-to-date as circumstances change, e.g. when he marries, has a child, purchases a home or acquires wealth.

Understandably, his focus will most likely be upon other things, such as deciding where he will live, beginning a new career, and perhaps finding a life partner. But your thoughtfulness can also teach him that these new adventures come with a certain responsibility.  What if, for example, he were in an accident or suffered serious illness and became unable to manage his own affairs or direct his medical treatment.  This happens!

In our own family, while our son was away at college, he suddenly had to undergo emergency surgery.  I can assure you it was quite unsettling to have to scurry around to prepare and arrange the remote signing of an Advance Health Care Directive while, at the same time, make emergency travel plans to be with him.  Fortunately, everything turned out fine, but one never knows.

While your grandson’s own parents may feel that, should anything happen, they can always make decisions for him, they may be surprised to learn that the law does not agree.  Once he  turns 18, he becomes an adult in the eyes of the law, and his parents no longer have the legal right to make decisions for him or direct his medical care.  Instead, if suitable legal documents were not in place, they could only acquire that legal authority through a court ordered conservatorship, a public, time-consuming and expensive legal proceeding.

Your grandson need not worry that his designated Agents will take over management of his life.  The Advance Health Care Directive and the Durable Power Of Attorney can be “springing powers”.  This means that they would only “spring to life” and become operational when– and if– he became incapacitated and could not make those decisions for himself.  Also, he need not feel obliged to name his parents as his agents.  Instead, he could name whomever he wishes, such as a sibling or even a very good friend to serve as his agent or successor agent.

One of the other benefits of this gift would be his introduction to a professional with whom he might build a relationship, and who might be able to assist him over the years as he matures.  You might also consider introducing him to your banker or stockbroker, help him establish a contributory IRA and discover the wonders of compound interest.  Indeed, you might be able to show him how – with regular contributions– he could be a millionaire by the time he is your age:))