Choosing the best representative for yourself: Health care documents, Power of Attorney, and Last Will and Testament.
Why is choosing a representative important?
Estate planning is a very important process, but your estate plan can become redundant without someone to represent your interests and wishes should you pass on or become incapacitated. It is equally unfortunate to choose a representative who does not respect your healthcare directives or your vision for your final legacy. Hence, choosing the right representatives in your estate plan and healthcare documents is a serious affair that deserves due diligence.
Your representative in a Last Will
Your Last Will is a legally binding document that specifies your instructions, wishes, and intentions regarding the distribution of your assets, wealth, and estate after your death. Aside from naming your beneficiaries in your will, you will also have to appoint a representative to oversee the distribution of your assets. This representative is your executor and, after your passing, they will be responsible for handling your financial issues, including any debts, payments, or allocations that need to be made. If your estate distribution requires more care and attention, you can appoint more than one executor to ensure they assist each other without anyone getting overwhelmed.
These co-executors can work in tandem on their areas of expertise to ensure the smooth continuation of your estate as per your instructions. Other responsibilities of an executor include handling more personal matters such as communicating any important information to your loved ones. If you have appointed the executor of your will to also carry out your end-of-life wishes, then the executor will facilitate your funeral arrangements according to the instructions in your End-of-Life Plan.
Having a competent executor allows efficient dispersal of your assets without creating unnecessary confusion among your family. Even if personal family matters become too complicated as your family grieves, your executor is expected to remain level-headed and loyal to your wishes.
If you pass on without a will, and therefore, an executor, a court-appointed representative will oversee the distribution of your assets. However, without a legal will, this does not guarantee that this individual will seek to fulfil your wishes.
Your representative in a Power of Attorney
Another legal document is a Power of Attorney (PoA) in which you appoint a representative called an agent who acts with authority on your behalf and upon your death or incapacitation. In a PoA, you authorize your agent to make decisions about your finances, business, and any money related matters. As with a Last Will, it is possible to appoint more than one representative in your PoA to make important decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. If you wish you can authorize each agent to oversee only a specific aspect of your finances such as your taxes or investments. Your agent in a PoA is also referred to as an attorney-in-fact.
Your representative in a Living Will or Medical Power of Attorney
In a Medical Power of Attorney, your appointed representative, also called an agent, makes healthcare-related decisions for you if you become incapacitated. The document specifies your preferences on medical issues such as resuscitation and life support should they be called for. Your agent will only have the authority to make these decisions if your health care providers confirm that you are unable to make competent medical treatment decisions for yourself.
A living will also called an advanced directive document, is a healthcare document that enables you to outline your healthcare wishes and medical treatment preferences. A living will does not name any representative, and it only comes into play when you fall into a critical condition or a vegetative state.
You may opt for either one or both these documents. Furthermore, they can be separated or attached to make one document. In any case, a living will helps to support or limit the decisions made by your representative in a medical power of attorney.
Legal criterion for choosing your representative
You should ensure the validity of your estate plan and healthcare documents by choosing a representative who meets legal requirements. Such legal requirements vary from area to area, but generally, your representative has to be of legal age and mature with no criminal record, and should be deemed mentally competent. Other legal factors to consider should include naming a representative who consents to this role and who can easily be available in an emergency.
Choosing a representative with the right skill set
It is common practice for people to choose representatives they are close to such as spouses, family members, and close friends. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is important to consider whether the person you have designated to make financial decisions understands the fundamentals involved. This does not require them to be financial or fiduciary advisors. However, basic knowledge in accounting, finance, or estate law is beneficial. Other skills to look out for when hunting for the perfect representative also include any previous experience conducting similar responsibilities as well as familiarity with document processing. It is also better to have a representative who is geographically close to you so they can be hands-on if the opportunity arises.
Additionally, a representative with commendable personality traits (trustworthy, reliable, responsible, etc.) will ensure your best interests are prioritized in the allocation of your assets and other affairs. If your representative is competent and willing enough to step into the role you have designated for them, they will be able to stand firm in the representation of your wishes. Such responsibility can be overwhelming if faced with demanding situations.
As a last note, it is sometimes wise to choose a representative who has no emotional or financial stake in your affairs. A neutral, third-party who won’t gain or lose much is better equipped to prioritize your best interests and those of your family.
Your obligations towards your representative
Before your representative can step in and act on your behalf, you need to pave the way for them to do so. Firstly, always ensure that any representative you choose is a willing party to all roles and tasks you have assigned them. This is of utmost importance as they are not legally bound to go along with your plans just because you named them in your estate plan documents.
It would be best if you do not deceive your representative or keep them in the dark regarding any information they must know. By communicating honestly and clearly, you help them make an informed decision on whether to represent you or not. Transparency with your family is also essential as you can let them know the identity of your representative and the decisions they will be making on your behalf. If you have chosen your representative well, you can make your family understand the reasons for your selection, so they can fully welcome your representative. In this way, you make things more organized and easier for your representative.
Choosing a professional and qualified representative
At times, it is preferable to opt for a professional representative for reasons like your peace of mind or lack of options. Professionals that qualify for this role include banks, lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors. Hiring a professional representative will certainly cost you, but it has its advantages. Their expertise and impartiality may prove invaluable to you. Similarly, your appointed representative can also seek professional assistance with certain responsibilities they might not be able to carry out.
Keeping your representative informed
It is essential to recognize that your relationship with your chosen representative is ongoing and requires constant interaction to ensure you both have the same understanding. This means keeping them in the loop any time you review, revise, or make changes to relevant documents.
You should grant them the access they need to important documents or important information needed to access those documents. They should also be able to liaise with other parties involved in your estate documents such as your financial advisor, lawyer or other representatives.
When you maintain transparent communication with your representative, you avoid any frustrations on their part, which facilitates a better understanding of your wishes and interests.