The older we become, the more likely it is that we will need some help with our day-to-day life and finances. Most family caregivers are tasked with some degree of medical and financial coordination for their care partners. It's important to consider who your caregivers will be and give them the authority to help you with these tasks without having to go to court to get it. The way to do this is by appointing your legal representatives in estate planning documents.
As an attorney, I walk clients through planning consultations every day. We spend a lot of time deliberating who should be appointed to serve in important roles like health care surrogates, power of attorney agents, executors and trustees, and flesh out those duties in a well-rounded estate plan. Each of these roles is a type of caregiving. And while I can offer suggestions and help guide the deliberations, the final decision is always up to the client.
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The decision process is not to be taken lightly. The caregivers you name in your estate planning documents may someday have control over the medical care you receive, your assets and property, and even where you live and how you spend your days.
Without valid legal documents, you will be leaving the decision up to your state's proxy, guardianship or conservatorship laws. And the representatives who may be appointed by a court may not be whom you would want. Naming your representatives while you are of sound mind will prevent that undesirable result and gives you control over your affairs — even when you can't speak for yourself. These tips will help you with the decision-making process to determine who the right representatives are to best serve your interests in life and beyond.
How far ahead you should plan?
Even if you're young and healthy today, plan like you'll need caregiving tomorrow. Tragedy does not discriminate, and the unexpected may happen. While that's a scary thought to many, this can also be a helpful thought when making your legal documents. Here's why: When you're selecting your future representatives, you don't need to think about who it should be in five, 10 or 20 years. My clients say things like, “My brother is a good choice today, but he'll be too old in 10 years to caregive for someone else.” My response is always, “If he's a good choice today, then you have your answer. Ten years is a long way away.”
So, choose your representatives based on current circumstances, not what you think will happen down the road. Your documents can — and should — be updated as life goes on.
Types of representatives
Your estate plan may include the following roles. Terminology and qualifying factors vary by state, so consult with an attorney in your state of residence with any questions about these roles and the right estate planning documents for you.
Health care proxy/surrogate
Your health care proxy (or surrogate) can obtain your information from your medical providers and make medical decisions for you if you are unable.