Preparing an estate plan is seldom easy. It requires you to think about difficult possibilities, including the end of your own life. Many of the decisions you make can benefit your loved ones, not only by providing them with an inheritance, but also by saving them from wondering what your wishes would be. This may also prevent disputes if family members disagree about what you would want.
One important way you provide this comfort to your loved ones is by designating a power of attorney, which grants authority to someone whom you choose to make legal or medical decisions at a time when you may be unable to do so for yourself. If you should become ill or suffer injuries in an accident that leaves you unconscious or unable to communicate, who will make critical decisions on your behalf?
Not always the obvious choice
Choosing the right person to be your legal or medical power of attorney will be critical. You may choose one person to handle both, but it may be more practical to find separate agents since both capacities include some heavy responsibilities. Some things to keep in mind when selecting your powers of attorney include the following:
- Choosing someone who can think clearly at times of high emotion and ask questions about your care is better than selecting an agent based on birth order or feelings of obligation.
- Someone who is having financial struggles may be more interested in protecting an inheritance than in seeking your best interests.
- Your chosen agent should not be too close to your age since he or she may have the same physical or mental limitations you may suffer at that time.
- The person you choose must be able to stand up for your wishes when other family members disagree or apply pressure for a different course of action.
- You will want an agent who lives close by and who can respond quickly in case of emergency.
It is always wise to discuss your plans with your chosen agent to allow that person the opportunity to accept or refuse the appointment. If you have firm opinions about end-of-life care and other critical issues, it is best to share those with your power of attorney agent and through your estate planning documents. A skilled attorney can assist you and work closely with your chosen agent.