Friday, November 17, 2017

Making Choices 2.0

Since relaunching the blog, much of our focus has been on ability for an individual (the Principal) to choose other people (the Designees) to have the ability to make decisions in the event that the Principal becomes incapacitated. For almost every client this gives rise to the question, "who should I choose?" As with all of the decision-making aspects of estate planning, the answer to that question lies with the person who is creating the plan. As advisors and counselors, we can provide some insight into that decision, but ultimately it is one that must be made by the client.
Many of our clients struggle with choosing a single individual to name as a Designee, sometimes out of concern that the responsibility will create too heavy a burden for one person to handle. The good news in these circumstances is it is possible to appoint multiple Designees to work together to serve in any given role. This means that two or more people may be named to work together, either by unanimous consent, by majority rule, or each acting independently, in order to manage the responsibilities of serving under a Power of Attorney, Will, or Trust. While naming multiple Designees is always an option, it may not be the most efficient way of managing affairs, as naming multiple Designees normally requires those individuals to work together to achieve results. Further, with respect Designees named to make medical decisions under a Patient Advocate Designation, we generally recommend that our clients name a single person to serve as the Patient Advocate at any given time, in order to avoid creating a situation where multiple Designees cannot agree on a course of medical treatment, so doctors require that the Probate Court name a Guardian to remove uncertainty. The goal of implementing a Patient Advocate Designation seeks to avoid the Probate Court, not create a situation that requires it.
We make clients aware that they have the freedom to name anyone they desire to serve as a Designee, but all too often clients delay estate planning decisions due to concerns about their Designees. A common worry is someone who is not named will feel disappointment or even anger because of their omission. In those circumstances we find it helpful to remind our clients it is in their own best interest to choose the people that they believe have the capacity to fulfill the responsibilities of the role, especially as it pertains to them. If that means that a single child is named as the primary Designee in all of the documents because the child is more responsible, so be it, because that child has the ability to manage the responsibility. If the person named as the Designee in the Power of Attorney for making legal and financial decisions is different from the Designee in the Patient Advocate Designation for making medical decisions, that too is acceptable because the goal of naming Designees is to have the people best equipped make decisions making those decisions. Ultimately it is important to consider the consequences of naming someone less capable simply to avoid hurt feelings. Under those circumstances most people are able to trust their instincts, name the individuals who will do the best job and have enough peace of mind to set aside the worry that someone not named will be offended.
The bottom line in all of this is that the Designees named in an estate plan are essential to the success of that plan. While it is possible to name multiple individuals to work together, that is not always the most efficient way to administer a plan. The success of the plan is the result of naming the best people for the job. These decisions are not always easy and every planning situation is unique, which is one reason why it is especially useful to work with an attorney experienced in estate planning. That attorney should take the time to assist and guide you through the process of choosing Designees that meet the standard.

Matt and Al

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