When you decide to take the step of getting your estate planning affairs in order, there are many decisions you'll have to make. In a truly comprehensive estate plan, there's more to your plan that just your will or living trust, which means there are more decisions to be made beyond just the division of your assets. When selecting the people who will act as the agents acting under your powers of attorney, it is important to consider many things, including your closeness to that person as well as whether or not you are both “on the same page” about your preferences and desires.
One set of decisions that is extremely important in any estate plan relates to who will speak for you when you cannot. As you prepare to create powers of attorney and name the agents who will act under the terms of those documents, here are five important questions that you may not have considered but are useful to contemplate as you make these decisions:
Do you get along well together?
Your brother may have an M.B.A. from Harvard and may be a highly sophisticated financial whiz, but if you two don't work well together, he may not be the best choice as the agent under your financial power of attorney. Bear in mind that, whomever you pick, you should pick someone with whom you're extremely comfortable sharing the most intimate details of your financial life.
Does this person have financial sophistication?
While, as noted above, the most financially sophisticated person whom you dislike may make a poor candidate, someone with whom you are very close but who has little to no financial skills or savvy might also be a flawed selection. The more complex your estate is, the more difficult it will probably be for someone without financial knowledge or skill to do the job of financial attorney-in-fact effectively on your behalf.
Does this person live nearby?
This is a valid consideration with either POA. Close geographic proximity may make it easier on your agent, and easier to meet your needs, when your agent is called upon to make decisions and interact with outside professionals like your doctors or your business associates. If you are in situation where you need the aid of your attorneys-in-fact, chances are that there will be many things that must be dealt with. Choosing someone who lives 2,000 miles away will make it hard on them, and hard for them to represent you effectively.
Is this person assertive?
This is something to consider when choosing either a financial or healthcare attorney-in-fact, but it is especially important with an agent under a healthcare power of attorney. If your preferences include very minimal (or no) life-extending medical intervention, your agent may have to fight hard for the enforcement of your wishes against a medical establishment “hardwired” to want to provide treatment in all situations. The more assertive your agent, the more confident you can be that your wishes will be honored and carried out.
Does this person share your values?
This is an especially important concept to contemplate as you select your agent for your health power of attorney. Having an agent who is “on the same page” as you will serve two goals, both enhancing the likelihood that your preferences will be carried out, and that those goals will be fulfilled with a minimum of heartache for your loved ones. For example, if your preferences include receiving little or no life-extending medical care when you are in an end-of-life situation, it might be less than ideal to select as your agent a loved one who, whether for religious or other reasons, is steadfastly morally opposed to withholding life-extending medical care in any circumstance. Both your wishes and your loved one's emotions might suffer in that type of situation.
This is, of course, not a complete list. There are many questions, in addition to these, you should ask yourself before making the very important selections of your power of attorney agents. This list, however, provides some food for thought and a starting point for making these choices.