What to Consider When Selecting Your Agent

The individual(s) you chose as your “Agent” in your estate planning documents has the important responsibility of protecting you.

That protection is afforded to your financial affairs and health care decisions while you are alive.

Good Agents share important qualities. They need to be:

  • available,
  • trustworthy to a fault,
  • reliable,
  • able to use common sense when weighing options,
  • and most importantly able to represent and follow your instructions and interests.
Although not essential, it often proves beneficial if your financial Agent has experience dealing with financial matters, your health care Agent has some knowledge of health care, and both should be familiar with your specific needs.

Your financial Agent (and an alternate or co-agent) is named in your financial Power of Attorney.

This should be someone that you implicitly trust to manage your finances and property. In Maryland, these documents are lengthy giving your Agent the same powers and authority that you possess with regards to your assets and personal property. The document can be limited in its scope and duration or it can be broad-based with no time limit.

The Agent (and an alternate or co-agent) that makes medical decisions for you is appointed under your Health Care Power of Attorney.

This authority in Maryland is frequently coupled with living will decisions in a document called an Advance Health Care Directive. A living will allows you to put in writing what your wishes are concerning end-of-life decisions if you are later unable to communicate them. The person you appoint in this document should be questioned as to whether they can honor your instruction.

These Agents are appointed by you while healthy so that you are protected should, in the future, you lack capacity resulting in your inability to act for yourself or make your own decisions

For example, let’s say you appoint your son as your agent under your Financial Power of Attorney. Your son or daughter is quite astute in business, they are a risk taker but know you’re quite conservative in your financial dealings. Your agent should be willing to manage your financial affairs using your conservative approach, rather than their preferred riskier approach. If your children won’t do that, it’s likely someone else might be a better choice.

Similarly, the person you appoint as Agent under your Health Care Power of Attorney should be willing to abide by and enforce your decisions regarding end-of-life decisions, even if they might make different choices for themselves.

Agents are perhaps the most important people in our legal lives. They step in and make decisions for us when we’re unable to act for ourselves.

It’s critical to take the time to choose wisely when selecting an Agent.

You should pick the person who is best suited for the task. That person may or may not be your oldest child or even your spouse. Once you’ve chosen the right person to act as your Agent, then you can rest easier knowing they will make the right decisions in the event something happens to you.

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