Selecting someone to act on your behalf should you become incapacitated or pass away can be a difficult decision. Though most people choose a spouse, an adult child, sibling or parent to fill these roles, the decision is completely up to you.
Responsibilities of Surrogates
As this Forbes article discusses, the person or people you nominate in your estate plan have a wide range of rights and duties. They may:
- Make medical decisions for you
- Manage your finances and pay your bills
- Serve as your child’s caregiver
- Manage a trust
- Distribute property to heirs
- Pay taxes and expenses
- Make funeral decisions
Ideal Traits and Characteristics
Considering all that is asked and expected of these people, it is important that they have traits and characteristics that lend themselves to the efficient and competent exercise of their duties. They should be:
- Capable of handling financial and legal paperwork
- Good at communicating with people, from family members to financial professionals
- Understanding of your wishes
- Willing to take on the role
Not every person you appoint in your estate plan will necessarily have all of these traits. For instance, a trusted, close family member might be perfect to serve as a caregiver for your child, while not being great with handling paperwork. Another person may not be someone you’d want to make your medical decisions, but he or she could be well-versed in legal and financial matters and would make a great personal representative. Short story: you can nominate different people to serve in different ways, and you should think carefully about doing so.
Whomever you decide to name as the decision-maker(s) in your estate plan, think carefully before giving someone rights and responsibilities they may not want, or may not be able to handle. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself and your loved ones in an upsetting situation that could lead to costly — and emotionally difficult — legal disputes.