Empowering someone with the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf requires careful thought and evaluation. When selecting an agent for your power of attorney, it’s crucial to select someone who embodies trustworthiness, understanding, and the capability to represent your interests.
Dive in to learn about how to choose a power of attorney agent to best manage your affairs.
- What Is an Agent?
- Who Can Be an Agent?
- Who Should Be Your Power of Attorney Agent: 7 Characteristics to Look for
- Can I Have More Than One Agent?
- How Do I Change My Agent?
- Pick the Right Agent for Yourself
What Is an Agent?
An agent is someone appointed by the principal, the creator of the power of attorney (POA), with the legal authority to act and make decisions on behalf of the principal.
Depending on the POA type, agents are designated to handle medical, legal, personal, and financial affairs when the principal becomes incapacitated or unable to do so themselves.
Who Can Be an Agent?
To be named an agent, an individual must be:
- 18 years of age or older;
- Of sound mind and have mental capacity;
- Willing to act as a fiduciary and protect your rights and interests as the principal.
While individual states might have additional criteria (e.g., some states forbid an agent to also be a witness of your POA), the core requirement is a mentally capable adult ready to uphold the principal’s rights and interests.
Should I pay my agent?
Legally, you’re not obliged to pay an agent. When appointing family or friends, many principals opt not to compensate. However, if you choose an attorney or a third party as your agent, expect to pay. Attorneys typically charge hourly ($150-$500) or have flat fees for their services.
Who Should Be Your Power of Attorney Agent: 7 Characteristics to Look for
Many people choose their spouse to act as their agent. Other common options include:
- Siblings or close relatives;
- Parents or children;
- Close friends;
- A licensed attorney;
- Any other trusted individual.
Consider the seven characteristics below to pick the right agent for your POA:
Trustworthiness stands at the core of selecting an agent, especially when the POA grants broad and sweeping powers to the agent, giving them comprehensive control over personal assets or critical end-of-life treatment decisions. Entrusting these sensitive matters to someone trustworthy ensures your wishes are upheld with integrity, even during the most vulnerable moments.
Your agent has fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and good faith. This means they are legally obligated to act in your best interest, avoid conflicts of interest, and execute decisions with utmost transparency and honesty. They must prioritize your well-being and financial health above any personal gains or external influences.
It’s vital to select someone both physically accessible and mentally equipped to handle the responsibilities entrusted to them.
Choosing someone nearby ensures they can manage local matters promptly. Additionally, consider age and mental capability. While your 18-year-old son might be legally eligible, he may lack the maturity or experience needed for crucial decisions.
3. Shared Values
Choose a POA agent who aligns with your core beliefs, especially regarding finances and medical preferences. Conflicts may arise if you’re passionate about organ donation, but your agent opposes it. An agent who deeply understands and respects your values will best represent your wishes.
In challenging situations or disagreements, a POA agent’s assertiveness is crucial. They must be resilient, standing firm against external pressures—even if decisions are unpopular with others or family members. This ensures your wishes are upheld without compromise.
5. Informed Awareness
An ideal POA agent possesses comprehensive knowledge of your financial and medical circumstances. These can include:
- Medical: Allergies, medications, and pre-existing conditions;
- Financial: Assets, investments, and debts;
- Insurance: Types and details of coverage;
- Legal: Wills, trusts, and other POA agreements.
They must be well-informed to make decisions that genuinely reflect your best interests and unique situation.
6. Organizational Skills and Rationality
An ideal agent must have strong organizational skills and rational thinking to ensure that your directives are understood and executed precisely. They must be able to detach from overwhelming emotions, especially during difficult end-of-life decisions, to secure your desired outcomes.
Last but not least — choose someone who is genuinely willing to serve as your agent. Ensure your selected individual is not only capable but also truly ready to shoulder the responsibilities and act in your best interest when the time comes.
Can I Have More Than One Agent?
If you have more than one POA, you can name a different agent (or agents) for each POA document; the agent(s) can be granted specific authority over certain subjects based on your wishes. For instance, you can appoint your spouse to be your agent under a medical POA and appoint your child to be your agent under a financial or general POA.
If you have only one POA, you can have more than one agent by naming co-agents, or prepare a backup plan by naming a successor agent.
A successor agent serves as an essential backup, stepping in only when the initial agent becomes unable or unavailable to serve.
Appointing a successor agent ensures that your affairs remain in trusted hands. It helps you prepare for unforeseen circumstances and makes sure decisions stay in line with what you want. If there is no named successor agent when the primary agent is unavailable, then the power of attorney ends, or a guardian may be appointed by the court to handle your affairs.
When drafting your power of attorney document, you should designate both an initial and successor agent.
Co-agents are individuals you appoint simultaneously to make decisions for you. Unlike a successor agent, co-agents hold shared authority right from the POA’s activation. You determine whether the co-agents can exercise their powers separately or if the co-agents are required to act together.
Having co-agents can be advantageous, especially if one lives nearby for immediate concerns while the other has expertise in financial or medical matters. However, it has potential pitfalls. Disagreements among the co-agents may lead to legal disputes or your wishes being sidelined.
How Do I Change My Agent?
You may want to change your agent for various reasons. They may have changed their mind and can no longer serve in the role, they may have passed away, or you may have second thoughts.
To change your agent and terminate the agent’s authority, you can revoke your existing power of attorney. Then, draft a new POA and appoint a new agent on the document.
Pick the Right Agent for Yourself
Choosing the right power of attorney agent is vital. Ensure that trust and capability are at the forefront of your decision. By making a thoughtful choice, you safeguard your wishes and interests, especially during unpredictable events.