Q: How do I decide whom to appoint in the various roles as part of my basic estate plan?
A: For individuals and couples who are new to the estate planning process, one of the most daunting aspects of the process (other than the contemplation of one’s own mortality….) is considering which persons in your orbit should be named in your documents to fill the various roles – Health Care Agent, Attorney-in-Fact, Personal Representative/Executor, Guardian for minor children, and Trustee – that are the “tent poles” of the four signature documents that comprise a basic estate plan. To review, these four documents are a Health Care Proxy, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Will and a Revocable Trust. Thinking about which persons you may be comfortable naming in each of these roles, and then in turn, whether those persons have skill sets that are suited to those roles, involves thinking about what I like to call “Team You.”
Everyone has a Team – you simply may not realize it yet. Thinking creatively and expansively about the members of your team will help you to be thoughtful about nominations. The same person who is best suited to advocate for your health and well-being as your Health Care Agent should you fall ill or become injured, and are unable to communicate your own wishes, may not be the same person who is best suited to handle your financial affairs as your Attorney-in-Fact. The Executor/Personal Representative of a decedent’s estate will work closely with the Trustee of a decedent’s Revocable Trust, so selecting persons or entities for those roles that will collaborate productively is important. It can even make sense in certain circumstances to name the same persons for these complementary roles. Complex estate plans may be suitable for the naming of multiple Trustees – individual persons who are be family members could serve as Family Trustees, working with individual or institutional Professional Trustees.
The selection of Guardians for minor children can be a unique source of concern for clients, and can be a stumbling block in the completion of the estate planning process. Anyone who is a parent may find this to be the most challenging designation in the estate planning process. Giving oneself permission once again to think creatively and expansively about the selection process may help – thinking about the individual or individuals who may be best suited at present for this role may assist in the decision process. As indicated below, documents can always be revised in future as circumstances change.
Your estate planning attorney is an excellent sounding board as you consider the members of your Team. As a final thought, because families and relationships are not static, it is likely and even probable that your Team will change throughout your life. Estate planning documents are dynamic in nature – they should change as the people in your life, your assets, and your own personal situation changes.
Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton. Questions and ideas for future columns should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.