Every adult needs at least three estate planning documents: a power of attorney for health care, one for finances, and a basic will. But many of you have reached out to me with specific concerns, so I’m revisiting the topic with a few tips on choosing individuals to serve in the important roles of your estate plan.
Of course, summing it all up isn’t easy — every situation is different — so I consulted a few experts.
“There are some guidelines that I think are important, but every situation must be analyzed and assessed based on the facts applicable to the client,’’ says Robert G. Aitkens, who operates Atlanta-based Aitkens & Aitkens PC. Before making decisions about whom to name in your estate planning documents, spend time honestly assessing your family structure, your family dynamics, and your assets, he says.
One thing is for sure. ‘‘The most important qualities that the named executor, trustee, power of attorney holder or medical agent must possess are honesty and trustworthiness,’’ Aitkens says.
You don’t have to settle on one person. For example, when considering a trustee for a trust, ‘‘You can name one person, two or more persons to act together, a corporation or trust company to act alone, or a bank to serve as co-trustee with an individual,’’ says Beth Wood of North Carolina-based Moore & Van Allen.
The same goes for power of attorney holders. ‘‘And if you name multiple people, you could allow them to act jointly or severally, dependent upon who is available and willing to act,’’ Wood says.
Financial skills and health knowledge help. If a friend or family member is a physician or is financially savvy, great. But these are not prerequisites. If the person “is honest and intelligent, they can seek professional counsel,’’ Aitkens says.
Consider availability and age. Will the person be around for years, or will you have to update plans often? And, Wood cautions, administering an estate can be extremely time-consuming.