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Modern Estate Planning Blog

Elder Law & Special Needs Planning

Ask Heather - My 18 year old son is going to college hours away from me.

August 10, 2011

My 18 year old son is going to college hours away from me. Eventually, we will be willing to let him take one of the cars down with him. I wondered if we should put the car in his name and have him get his own policy. My auto insurance agent told me that having his own policy would probably be more expensive. I figured that. However, she felt that the liability would still be with us since we are still supporting him for school. Therefore, it would not make much difference if the car was in his name and had his own policy. What are your thoughts? Thanks for your help.

When a child turns 18 in CA he is legally an adult and the parents’ are no longer legally liable (under CA’s parental responsibility laws) for the child’s actions.

That said, if you keep the car in your name and allow your son to drive it you will continue to retain responsibility as the owner of the vehicle. Your liability may be limited to willful and negligent acts of your child, but it definitely keeps the door open to pull you in. That door may end up as just adding a “hassle factor” to your lives as you would likely be made a party any lawsuit simply based on being an owner even though you may be able to show you have no liability. Remember plaintiff’s are always looking for “deep pockets” and in CA we have what is called “joint and several” liability. In plain English it means if liability is found on several parties any one of them can be made to pay the judgment. So, it’s something to think about. I think this probably comes down to an economic analysis for you and balancing the risks.  Good luck!

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Heather was wonderful. She explained, in understandable terms, why it is important to establish an estate plan. I never realized what would happen, without a plan in place, and we could not bear the thought of our child in arms of absolute strangers while the court system sorted out his future.

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