If you have multiple family members who play a key role in your life, it may be challenging to figure out who you should name as the person in charge of your legal, financial, and medical decisions. If ever you fall ill or are near death, this person will have the large responsibility of carrying out your wishes. That’s why it’s important to organize your wishes and tell your family ahead of time, so you can be clear who will be making those decisions. Enter: powers of attorney.
First, let’s pause for a moment to explain what a power of attorney is. Socially, we may refer to a person as the power of attorney — but that would be incorrect. A power of attorney is actually the legal document that allows you to appoint someone called the "attorney-in-fact" or "agent" to make decisions on your behalf. But we’re not attorneys, and we assume you aren’t either, so you can call your people whatever you want. But just know when it comes to the legal document itself, the person you’re naming is “attorney-in-fact”.
Now there are several different types of powers of attorney, including financial power of attorney, which grants the attorney-in-fact the authority to manage your financial affairs, and medical power of attorney, which grants the attorney-in-fact the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf. Some people name one person for everything and others spread it across family and friends.
In a previous post, we walked you through the difference between durable and non-durable powers of attorney. But in this post, we’ll walk you through what to consider when choosing who to appoint. This is particularly helpful if you are an aging parent who is relying on adult children to collaborate on your care or if you have specific wishes for how you want your estate and personal matters to be handled in the event of your death.
Just as a reminder, it is entirely up to you to decide who you want to appoint — we’re just here to make that a little easier. Here are a few things to consider:
Age and maturity
Oldest children may read this with a pang of resentment as responsibilities often fall on them. However, based on this very legitimate and relevant study, oldest children have been proven to be the smartest, which could come in handy when dealing with financial affairs and coordinating among other family members. Full disclosure: This post is written by a biased, oldest (and smartest) child.
In all seriousness, considering the age and maturity of the person you appoint is very important (regardless of birth order). This person will be responsible for making decisions on your behalf and will require a bit of grace and patience to do so. If you choose someone who is younger or less mature, they may not have the judgment or experience to handle such complex matters.
Ultimately, the age and maturity of the person you choose will depend on your individual circumstances and the level of responsibility you want them to have. It's important to choose someone you trust and who you believe will be able to handle the duties of power of attorney effectively.
This may seem like an obvious one, but it is important to choose someone you trust because they will have a significant amount of control over your financial and legal affairs, as well as your medical care. Now, this isn’t a question of whether or not you can trust they have your best interest at heart, as we’d like to think they do. This is more about digging deeper and exploring whether you can trust that they will be able to handle making decisions on your behalf, even if they disagree with what you want. Or if they disagree with other family members who think they know what you want. In a moment of grief, it is hard to know exactly how people will act, which is why it’s best to talk these things through and get it down on paper now.
The wheels may already be turning on who would be best for these roles, but let’s keep going.
Willingness and ability to take on the role
Take a look at who in your family would be the most able and willing to carry out this role. It’s also possible that as you age, this person shifts. (We’ve made this easy to quickly change in Addio based on your circumstances.)
It’s good to check in with whomever you choose, to make sure that they’re willing and able to take this on. If you appoint an adult child and they’re overwhelmed with their own young children or job, perhaps you revisit the conversation. Or maybe they are far away and unable to be there in person if something should happen. Again, it’s all about keeping those lines of communication open, letting everyone feel comfortable to share what they can do to help carry out your wishes.
Before we wrap up, let’s go through what you can do if you have multiple family members, adult children in most cases, who can take on the roles together.
If you want to divide powers of attorney among family members, here are some options you can consider:
- Appoint multiple attorneys-in-fact: You can appoint multiple siblings as attorneys-in-fact, either to act together or independently. For example, you could appoint two siblings to act jointly as your financial power of attorney, meaning that both siblings would need to agree on any decisions made on your behalf. Alternatively, you could appoint one sibling as your financial power of attorney and another sibling as your medical power of attorney.
- Appoint a lead attorney-in-fact: You could appoint one family member as the lead attorney-in-fact, with the authority to make decisions on your behalf, and give the other members the authority to act as backup attorneys-in-fact in case the lead attorney-in-fact is unable or unwilling to serve.
- Create a team of attorneys-in-fact: You could create a team of attorneys-in-fact, with each person taking on a specific role or responsibility. For example, one person could be responsible for managing your financial affairs, while another could be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf.
Whatever you decide, be sure to reflect on what you want and check in every year with yourself and your family. If you need some support in having those conversations or don’t know where to start, reach out to us at Addio. Every new Addio member gets offer a complimentary 30-minute call with one of our Family Guides, who can help you put together an end-of-life plan that suits your personal needs.