There is a 70% guarantee that the day will come when you need someone to help make decisions for you if you are over age 65. Most people ignore or only casually think about whom they want to assist with their finances and health decisions when they are unable to help themselves.
Many people give this little thought and elect “my spouse”, “my oldest child” or “my neighbor.” Why? They worry about family politics and don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Perhaps they don’t understand the consequences of this decision when they need help.
Some people nominate their spouse to assist in financial and medical decision-making, even though they know that their spouse has no understanding of finances or has memory loss issues. Recently this was a problem for Sarah who nominated George, her husband of 50 years and with early Alzheimer’s, to be her agent for financial and health issues. He was in the hospital recovering from a fall when she had a stroke and also ended up in the hospital. There was no one to advocate for either of them, nor to pay the bills. A family member requested a court order so they could pay the bills and help with health decisions for both of them. Once Sarah fully recovered, the Judge required that she work jointly with another person on the finances, and she could no longer make her own independent decisions.
Others nominate their “oldest” child, because they think it will be politically acceptable to the family, and reduce family fights. You can substitute “oldest” with “smartest”, “closest”, “youngest”, “most financially astute”, “family peacemaker”, or any other descriptive words to reflect criteria for selection. Alan nominated Sam, the oldest of his three children, as his financial and health agent, even though he knew Sam had trouble holding down a job and periodically asked for money to pay his bills. Alan fell and was on the floor in his home for three days before the cleaning ladies found him. Alan was in intensive care for 15 days, then in a rehabilitative care unit for 45 days, and finally returned home. In the mean time, Sam ignored Alan’s bills, even though he told his siblings the bills were paid. Sam used Alan’s checking account as his own to buy a motorcycle and vacation on the Oregon Coast. Sam’s lack of skills to help with his father’s finances resulted in Alan paying an additional $23,000 that should have been paid under a government program.
Is there a better way to select a financial and health agent to help when you need it most? Take time to evaluate the skill level, honesty, proven responsibility, and availability of the agents you select. For example, if the person you select is always traveling, they may not be around when you need them. Even though they have the best of intentions, they will not have the time to attend to helping you in a timely way.
Professional agents are an alternative to family and friends. Some people select a bank’s Trust Department, their CPA, attorney or other professional as their agent on their financial and health powers of attorney. No fee is paid to the nominated professional until the day they are needed. Advantages of using a professional include: The professional knows what needs to be done, he/she is not a family member, and they are accountable.
I don’t suppose any of these issues apply to you, do they?