How to choose the people in charge of your estate plan
One of the most important aspects in creating an estate plan is creating the people who will carry out your wishes. This can be especially difficult if you are single and/or have a small family. In fact, this issue requires the strongest consultation skills because most people understandably don’t grasp the duties involved of a person such as a power of attorney, an executor or a trustee. This is one of the many values I can bring to my client in helping create their estate plan: offering advice on who should be put in charge and for what purposes.
This first blog article will cover the process of choosing the individual(s) to be your power of attorney.
I’ve written other articles on the importance of having power of attorney documents. In most estate plans, they come in two types. The first document is a durable power of attorney for finance and property. This document allows you to name someone to make financial and, indeed, almost all non-health related decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. The other document is a healthcare power of attorney. In this document you name a person (called an “agent”) to make healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated. Such decisions could also allow the decision to put you into a skilled nursing facility, to switch doctors or to change the course of a medical treatment.
Now that you have a better background on what these documents are, it’s time to discuss the who aspect of these documents, as in who you want calling the shots if you cannot.
If you are married, the first person you are most likely and frankly should choose to make decisions on your behalf is your spouse. So the process of choosing a power of attorney is automatically easier. But…you are now tasked with choosing an alternate or even better, two alternates (or as many as you are comfortable with).
The durable power of attorney for finance requires, above all, someone who you trust and someone who will act. Trust is obviously a crucial aspect of this document. Someone in your life who you love but is a liar or has problems with money or managing money is not a good candidate. Proximity is a plus as well and that is because if you are single or widowed and unable to make decisions for financial matters, you’re going to need this person to act on your behalf every day. So being close is helpful. But close and trustworthy is not enough. Do they have a busy life? Would it be better to ensure they will act that just name them and assume? Always ask if there is any doubt as to whether they can act.
Keep in mind that power of attorney for finance does not have to be a finance, legal and accounting wizard. It’s better, in fact, to have someone who understands that the document permits them to hire someone to handle these various aspects of your life. Above all, your POA should be a person of action.
And that also goes for the power of attorney for healthcare decisions (again, referred to as your “agent”). Remember, as we advance in age, health problems can come on gradually or suddenly, i.e. you may need an agent to take you to your doctor appointments and be there immediately if you are rushed to the hospital (hopefully not!).
Your healthcare power of attorney does not need to a medical professional but it certainly does not hurt. In my next blog article, I will discuss another aspect of the healthcare power of attorney that you need to consider in choosing your agent: the healthcare directive.