Trustees and other trusted helpers are essential to your estate plan. They carry out day-to-day duties when you cannot, either because you’re incapacitated or have died. Your estate plan likely needs trustees, personal representative (i.e. executor), guardians for minor children, health care agent, and financial agent.
First, before naming any trusted helper, get his or her permission. Describe the duties of the role and insist that they sleep on it, instead of accepting the role without thought. It is better for a potential trusted helper to decline during the creation of your estate plan than when the time comes to serve; and, each role takes a significant dedication, time commitment, and level of responsibility. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly.
Second, always name contingent trusted helpers, in case your primary trusted helper is unable or unwilling to serve. Life throws challenges at everyone; your first choice trusted helper may be going through a difficult time when time comes to serve. Obtain their permission before naming them in your estate planning documents as well.
Third, think of the characteristics needed for each trusted helper role. For example, a health care agent under a health care power of attorney should care about you, be a strong communicator, not be intimidated by doctors, and be able to carry out your medical wishes and best interests.
On the other hand, a financial agent under a financial power of attorney should care about you, be highly ethical, good record keeper, effective communicator, and good with finances. These same characteristics make a good trustee as well.
Selecting guardians may be the most difficult decision. Consider your potential guardian’s life-style, current relationship with your children, health, relationship with extended family, and values.
As you update your estate plan every three to five years, or upon the occurrence of a significant life event, evaluate your trustee and trusted helper choices to determine whether they are still a good fit.
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