One of the decisions that my clients often find the hardest to make working on their Wills, Powers of Attorney and other estate documents is deciding whom to appoint as the agents in those documents. The agent (or Executor in a Will) is the person who act on your behalf in the event you are unable. For instance, in a Power of Attorney, the agent will be able to do your banking for you, file tax returns, hire people to take care of you and even sell your house (if appropriate and if allowed by the document.)
Clients will sometimes want to appoint two children as joint agents so that things are "equal" and they aren't favoring one child over the other. If this is the case, I often advise them to think about it some more. Deciding who to appoint as your agent is not about making people feel good, or avoiding hurt feelings - it's about making sure that your wishes will be carried out in a timely manner when there is a crisis. And being appointed as a person's agent under a Power of Attorney can be a lot of work and involve taking time off of work or away from family matters to tend to things.
Things to keep in mind when choosing to appoint joint agents or executors are:
- why do you want to appoint joint agents? Are you trying to make things even? Do you not fully trust one of the people and you want to have a checks and balance system in place?
- have you talked to the individuals involved to see if they want to serve jointly with another person?
- do these two people get along?
- do they tend to think along the same lines so that there will not be a delay in making decisions due to disagreements?
- have you considered what might happen if they are unable to reach an agreement and necessary action must be delayed due to the indecision?
If you want two of your children each be able to assist you with different matters, and be able to split up the work, you could appoint joint agents who each have the power to act separately (meaning only one of them would need to sign a document for it to be effective.) Again, you want to be sure that they will not be working against each other, but this can alleviate some of the logistics of obtaining two signatures from people who live in different states and have different schedules.
Part of the work that I do with my clients is helping them sort through issues like these so that their estate documents (and the agents appointed) will serve them well in a crisis.