Age 18 is referred to as the "age of majority" in the United States and much of the rest of the world. This means that on your 18th birthday you receive by operation of law the right to:
1. Open a bank account under your own name and social security number only;
2. Obtain a credit card;
4. Purchase real estate or stock in your own name only;
5. Open a 401(k), IRA or Roth IRA;
6. Sign contracts enforceable against you;
7. Sign a Revocable Living Trust;
8 Sign Powers of Attorney for Finances & Health
9. Sign Living Wills;
10. Sign Transfer on Death Deeds;
11. Sign a Last Will & Testament;
12. To marry without parental consent; and
13. To file a Tax Return in your own name and social security number.
That is a lot of rights and responsibilities to get all in one day.
Practicing in the areas of Bankruptcy and Estate Planning, I see young people who get into trouble with debt early in their lives, which could have been avoided through education about finances and credit.
I see young people who get into trouble with the IRS and the Washington State Department of Revenue because they didn't understand the Business & Occupation Tax or deductions.
I see young people who don't know how to balance a checkbook and don't look at their bank statements.
I see young people who don't vote.
I see young people who don't file tax returns (or who file them improperly and don't keep records).
I see young people who don't begin modestly saving and investing for retirement.
I see young people who don't know that they have the right to have a Separate Property Revocable Living Trust, to keep property separate during marriage (and after divorce, if applicable), and to receive separate gifts and inheritance during marriage. I see young people who don't know that because their Trust becomes irrevocable if they die, their children are protected from disinheritance if a spouse remarries.
I see young people who don't know that they have the right to name health care agents who have the right to access (or those who don't have the right to access) their health care information and talk to their health care providers (Universities often require this, which is the impetus for many young people's parents contacting me).
I see young people who don't know that they have the right to name an agent to sign checks and contracts for them if they are not able to do so for themselves thereby negating the need for a Guardianship Proceeding (Understanding this right also gives young people a better understanding of how to act as their parents' agent and care for them when the time comes).
I see young people who don't know that they have the right to authorize a health care agent to pull the plug on life support, remove a feeding tube and remove IV fluid or not (and that their parent's have the same right and that they may be called upon to carry out their parent's wishes).
I see young people who don't know that they have the right to avoid probate on any real estate in Washington with a Transfer on Death Deed with a step up in cost basis to the date of death value (and that their parents have the same right which can save them thousands of dollars, 6 months or more of Estate administration time, and avoid public disclosure to the Court).
I see young people who don't know that a Will requires a Court and the associated cost, time, and public disclosure or that Probate does not require a Will.
I see young people who know they can marry, but don't understand the value of talking about financial issues in advance and the value of being organized to reduce anxiety and increase a sense of being in control of one's life. I see young people who don't know they can keep gifts and inheritance separate during marriage, but that if commingling with community property occurs that separate character may be lost.
Conclusion. The point is that because I have seen all of these things, I feel an obligation to help reduce the difficulties that can occur as a result. Young people who have some financial and legal sophistication early in their lives are less likely to get into debt problems, more likely to save for retirement, more likely to vote, more likely to correctly file tax returns, more likely to do their own estate planning, more likely to take better care of their parents when needed and to administer their Estate when needed without disputes, and are more likely to encourage their own kids to obtain the same kind of financial and legal sophistication that benefitted them in their lives.
Peace and harmony through generations of families can be promoted by having a common basis of knowledge and values. Communicating with each other about these issues is intended to promote strength and resilience in families so that if a family member is in a coma or dies, the rest of the family doesn't argue and fight, but instead experiences increased gratitude, compassion, and kindness. All of us face sickness and death. It is how we respond individually and collectively that defines who we are. Is who we are who we want to be? If not, there are things we can do together to learn and grow.
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