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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Multiple agents under Personal Directive?

Today I met with a client and talked about who he would appoint as his decision-maker (called an "agent") under his Personal Directive. In my experience, when a person thinks about what traits or qualifications his or her agent should have, the emphasis is not on actual skills or experience; the person just wants someone who loves him or her and will act in his or her best interests. My client has three adult children and his first idea was to name all three of them as joint agents.

I am not really a fan of someone having all three (or more) of his children acting together. One of the main purposes of a Personal Directive is to put a person in charge of being the spokesperson and decision-maker. The chances of all three children agreeing on all aspects of their parent's health and medical care are very slim. The value of the document would be greatly diminished.

When I talk to parents in this situation, they often say that they want all of the children named because they don't want to leave anyone out and possibly by doing so hurt their feelings. I applaud the goal of retaining family harmony but I don't think the joint agent arrangement is going to achieve it.

This client also said that he wanted all of his children to have input into major decisions regarding his medical and personal care if his Personal Directive were to be in effect. We discussd it and eventually arrived at a decision that pleased him and that I think will be effective. The solution is for the client to name his oldest child as his agent, and to state in the document that his other children must be consulted by the agent on all major decisions.

This does not give the other children a veto power or any legal authority. It does ensure that they will have the chance to give input on decisions that will be important to them. It achieves the client's goals of having one spokesperson and of having all children involved without bogging down the process.

When you meet with an estate planning lawyer, always ask for ideas about different ways to do things, and talk about your own ideas to see if they are workable. You should leave the meeting feeling satisfied that the lawyer understood your goals and came up with applicable ideas.

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