Garton & Harris

Traits to look for when appointing estate decision-makers

When you pass away or if you become incapacitated, other people will make decisions on your behalf. Depending on the circumstances, a person could decide whether to sell your home, where you should receive end-of-life care or how to distribute your property to your loved ones.

These are not insignificant matters. They reflect your beliefs and values, and they can affect your well-being and your legacy. As such, choosing the right people to fill these roles will be critical.

Who are the decision-makers?

In the context of estate planning, there can be multiple people appointed to different decision-making roles. Typically, people select:

  • An executor to carry out your wishes during the administration of your estate
  • Powers of attorney
  • A representative to assist with healthcare decisions
  • Guardians for a child or adults (also called a committeeship)
  • Trustees to manage a trust

Various people may fill these roles, or you might decide to have one or a couple of people managing everything.

Traits to look for (and look out for)

Considering the authority people in these positions can have, parties should appoint them thoughtfully. Someone capable and willing to fulfill their duties responsibly is often:

  • Organized
  • Responsible
  • Dependable
  • Familiar with your wishes and values
  • Capable of making decisions under stress
  • Comfortable having legal and financial conversations
  • Committed to putting your wishes ahead of his or her own interests
  • Able to diffuse or navigate complicated familial dynamics

On the other hand, you should think carefully before appointing someone to financial or medical decision-making roles if he or she:

  • Does not know you very well
  • Does not care about what you want
  • Disagrees with your beliefs
  • Is easily overwhelmed
  • Cannot handle complicated and emotional situations
  • Does not have a good relationship with your family
  • Is unwilling to put your interests before their own
  • Struggles with substance abuse, gambling or other addictions that could affect their ability to make responsible decisions

Of course, one person may not embody all the positive traits, and no one is perfect. However, when you are appointing someone to make legal, financial or medical decisions on your behalf, you should feel confident that he or she is compassionate, capable and committed to your wishes.

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