Your ‘power of attorney’ can name more than one agent

A power of attorney document allows someone else to act as your agent and handle your legal and financial affairs. It’s critical to have such a document in case you become incapacitated.

Sometimes, people want to name more than one agent. For instance, a person may have two children, and not want one child to feel that the other is being favored. Sometimes a parent will name two children and give them both access to all his or her affairs, so one child won’t suspect that the other is abusing the power.

Naming more than one agent has some advantages. For one thing, if one agent is hard to reach in an emergency, the other may be able to step in.

On the other hand, naming two agents can be a disaster if they can’t agree on how to handle matters. You should name two agents only if you feel confident that they can get along and agree on a course of action.

You’ll also want to make very clear whether the two agents can act independently or whether they both have to sign off on everything.

If they both have to sign off, this will eliminate any suspicion that one is abusing the power. But it’s much more cumbersome, and makes it hard to act in an emergency.

Allowing the agents to act independently is more efficient, but it also means that the agents might act in contradictory ways. And some financial institutions are reluctant to let one agent make unilateral decisions, for fear that the other agent will say something different and leave the institution stuck in the middle.

It’s also possible to name one person as an agent and another as a successor or “backup” agent, who will take over if the primary agent resigns or becomes incapacitated. This can be a good solution – but you’ll want to be very specific about when the successor agent can take over. Some financial institutions are very reluctant to follow a successor agent’s orders unless they have clear proof that the first agent is no longer able to make decisions.