Serving as agent under a durable or health care power of attorney is often a misunderstood responsibility. Many are quick to agree to serve for a loved one thinking that their services will never actually be needed or that the job will be relatively simple. Powers of attorney are one instance where appointing your peer may not be advised. As discussed in a Forbes article titled, “The Most Important Estate Planning Issue Boomers Need To Address”, agreeing to be agent should not be taken lightly.
As a general rule of thumb, you should only serve as agent if you are responsible, organized and capable of making difficult decisions. However, even if you are capable, it does not necessarily mean you should be willing to serve. For example, if you have young children, a demanding job or other time-consuming responsibilities, you may not be in a position to serve as an agent. Close proximity is also something to consider as you will have a more difficult time paying bills for your aunt living in another state. Additionally, if you are being named as an agent by relatively healthy seniors who are planning ahead, consider if you will still be able and willing to serve possibly years down the road. It is also important to realize that the responsibilities as agent go beyond stepping in after a loved one becomes incapacitated. The agent may need to help out long before complete incapacity with day to day bill paying or other responsibilities.
Finally, do not agree to serve as agent without understanding what your loved one expects of you. A good strategy to prepare to serve as agent includes having your loved one write down a monthly list of bills that will need to be paid so you will have a record of what to do if you take over. An experienced elder law attorney can provide advice and guidance about whether you should accept the appointment and then how to fulfill your duties.