As you move into your golden years, the idea that provisions will eventually need to be made for your care has probably at least begun to cross your mind. None of us know what mental or physical health problems we’ll face in the future, but chances are, if you live to be elderly enough, you will get to a point where you’re unable to independently care for yourself.
On top of that, when you do pass away, you will need an agent to oversee the administration of your estate and bring the last affairs of your life to a close. This is especially important if you want to create a relational estate plan, because your agent will be the one to communicate and execute your plan to provide for your loved ones.
(Related: Want to learn more about what a relational estate plan is? Click here!)
Different Roles, Different Responsibilities
There are three basic roles you will need agents for as you age (and sometimes more, depending on your situation):
A Financial Power of Attorney: This is someone you’ve given the legal authority to handle your finances, pay bills, write checks, etc. in the event that you are physically or mentally incapable of doing so yourself. This person is often referred to as a POA.
A Medical Representative: This is someone you’ve given the legal power to make medical decisions for you (through the authority of a legal document called an Advance Medical Directive) if you are incapacitated.
An Executor: This person is responsible to administrate your estate after you’ve passed by executing your Last Will and Testament, distributing your physical property, and so on. They are sometimes referred to as a personal representative
You’ll also need a specific agent if you have any trusts set up, known as a Trustee.
One person can fill all these roles, or you can choose different people for each – it’s up to you. We encourage you to think through your options in light of the responsibilities each role requires as you try to make those decisions. You may find that someone would be good for one role, but not all of them.
In our experience, however, every agent you choose, regardless of which roles they are fulfilling for you, should have these five characteristics:
This one’s a no-brainer. Is the person you are considering for your POA, AMD, or Executor trustworthy? Can you rest easy knowing that, if necessary, they will make decisions as you would and in your best interest? If you’re in doubt about whether or not you can trust someone to follow your instructions, they are NOT the person to choose as one of your agents, regardless of how “close” they may be to you emotionally or relationally.
This next characteristic is equally crucial. You may wholeheartedly trust someone’s character, but they also need to be capable of getting the job done.
Is the person you are considering for your Financial Power of Attorney competent with money?
Are their own finances in order? This role requires much more than for them to be good with numbers and understand how things work. It means they need to be fiscally discerning, responsible, and able to handle your finances on top of their own personal lives.
Does the person you’re considering for your Medical Representative operate well under pressure?
Will they be able to make tough decisions in the midst of conflicting emotions? You may love and trust someone with all your heart, but that doesn’t mean they are the right person to advocate for your wishes in the midst of an intense medical crisis or prolonged illness.
Is the person you’re thinking of appointing as Executor of your estate organized and able to handle the various probate process requirements?
Depending on how big your estate is this can become a complicated job, and needs to be given to someone who is competent to follow instructions and figure out what needs to be done, even if they’ve never done something like this before.
(Related: Click here to learn more about the Virginia probate process.)
3. Has a Good Reputation
Keep in mind that your agent will not be operating in a vacuum, but will be interacting with the rest of your loved ones. If you want to avoid conflict and promote harmony among your family and friends, you should choose agents who have generally good rapport with the other people in your life, as their decisions may impact those closest to you. It also helps relieve stress for the people who love you if they feel certain that your agent(s) is representing you well.
4. Accountable to Others
It should also be non-negotiable that your agent is accountable to others. The vast majority of elder abuse happens in situations where one person is solely responsible for an aging friend or relative. And it’s amazing how many elders are taken advantage of or neglected physically, emotionally, or financially by someone they deeply trust and depend upon.
No matter who you appoint as your agent, it’s always wise to have co-agents and backup agents who will have the legal right to check in on what they are or are not doing for you.
5. Part of a Community
Lastly, your agent(s) should be just one piece of the network of people you build around yourself. By this we mean you should be putting people in place to advocate for you as you grow older, particularly professionals who are experts in fields that will affect you.
For example, your agent may be the perfect person to represent you, but, understandably, they won’t know everything that your financial advisor will know. We recommend you form relationships with different professionals you trust, such as an accountant, financial advisor, and attorney who can help your agent help you as you age. Once you’ve formed these relationships yourself, connect them with your different agents, so they are able to contact one another in the event of an emergency. They will be able to speak wisdom into your situation that will aid your agent(s) in making the best decisions for your life.
No one is perfect, and when you break it down, it’s impossible to predict how life will go. But by prioritizing these five characteristics when you choose your agent or agents, you are likely to be surrounded by the people you can depend on to care for you best when the chips are down.
Need help choosing your agent(s) and creating an end-of-life plan? Click here to request your free consultation today.