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Be careful if you name more than one ‘agent’

A power of attorney and a health care proxy are essential parts of a good estate plan. A power of attorney document appoints an agent to make business and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated. A health care proxy appoints an agent to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself.

The easiest – and in some ways, best – idea is to name one person as your agent for all purposes.

Sometimes, though, people want to name more than one agent. For instance, a person might not want to choose one child over another, or might want to name multiple agents in order to spread the burden or allow one agent to act quickly if another is unavailable.

In some cases, a senior might want trust one person to make medical decisions, but not trust that person to make wise financial decisions.

Naming multiple agents is okay – but you need to be aware of the consequences if the agents ever disagree over what to do.

For instance, suppose your health care proxy decides that you need 24-hour home care, but your financial agent refuses to pay for it because he or she thinks a nursing home would be better. Or suppose you have multiple financial agents and they don’t see eye-to-eye over an investment. If they really can’t agree, a court might have to decide.

If you really want to name multiple agents, here are some steps you can take to minimize any problems:

  • Try to pick people who get along – who will likely agree with each other, or at least be able to resolve disagreements amicably.
  • Provide detailed instructions about your financial goals and medical preferences, so your agents will more likely be on the same page when they act on your behalf.
  • Clarify in your power of attorney document whether multiple agents can each act independently, or whether they must agree before any action can be taken.
  • Try to provide in the power of attorney some method you prefer for resolving disagreements between agents.
  • Consider having successor agents rather than multiple agents – for instance, you could provide that Person A will be your agent, but if Person A is unavailable or doesn’t want the responsibility anymore, then Person B will become your agent.
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