Who Takes Care of You if You Can’t Speak for Yourself?

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One of the most difficult decisions you may face is choosing the person who will speak on your behalf when it comes to financial or health care decisions or raising your children if you can’t speak on your own behalf.

In fact, this is where most people get stuck in the estate planning process – my husband and I took two years to complete our plan because we couldn’t agree on a guardian for our boys.

There are several labels for the person who speaks on your behalf, agent, attorney-in-fact, and guardian are a few of them. For simplicity, I’ll refer to “financial agents,” “health care agents” and “guardians.”

In 12 years of helping people with their estate plan, the most common stumbling block that my client have is selecting their agents. So, I’ve put together tips to help you choose the agents to help you.

First Step

The first step is to make a list of everyone in your life who might be better than social services or foster care to make decisions on your behalf.

Don’t judge the names here, just write them down.

Second Step

For each “job” that you need an agent for: Financial Agent, Health Care Agent and Guardian, make a list of the values and characteristics that matter most to you. Remember, these are the people (or person) who will be spending your money, making life and death decisions, and/or raising your children in your place, so think carefully about these.   In making this list, you might want to think about some of the following attributes (in no particular order):

  • Ability to Manage Money
  • Financial Maturity
  • Financial Responsibility
  • Education
  • Time available
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Physical location
  • Parenting style
  • Life style
  • Travel preferences
  • Age
  • Ability to put your wishes ahead of their own
  • Ability to understand medical terms
  • Existing relationship with your children
  • Emotional Maturity
  • Physical Health
  • Cultural Heritage
  • Geography
  • Social/Moral Values
  • Financial Responsibility
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Stability
  • Experience as Parents

You will likely have a different list of values for each type of agent: financial, health care, guardian (although some may overlap).

If you are married, your spouse should make separate lists.

Third Step

Now, go back through your list and rank the characteristics in order of importance to you. 

Compare the things that are important to you with the names on your list.  It’s probable that no single person on your list will have all of the qualities that you have listed. 

It’s a very good idea to choose two or three people for each job. To use a sports analogy: have a deep bench. If something happens to your first string, you have more than one alternate to fill the role.

Finally, remember, that as long as you are alive (and have capacity) you can change your mind

If you need help selecting your agents, or preparing your estate plan, living trusts, guardian nominations and advance directives, schedule a call with Thatcher | Law, and we can help.

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