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Are your substitute decision-makers up to the task?

If you get hurt or sick or pass away, someone may need to make some critical decisions on your behalf. They may need to talk to your doctors, make living arrangements or pay your bills, for instance.

At a time when families are already upset and grieving, making these decisions can be especially complicated. Thus, you should be confident that the people in these roles can handle the job.

What decisions do they make?

Substitute decision-makers will have the authority to make legal and financial decisions on behalf of a deceased or incapacitated party, depending on their specific role.

Some of the more common issues they may need to address include:

  • Approving or denying end-of-life or life-saving medical care
  • Signing legal documents
  • Cashing your checks
  • Deciding where to live and receive care
  • Buying and selling property
  • Paying bills
  • Distributing property

These decisions can dramatically affect you, your loved ones and your quality of life during an already challenging time.

Choosing the right person

With so much on the line, consider the following components when you are appointing decision-makers.

  • Do they know your wishes?
  • Do they share or at least understand your beliefs?
  • Are they capable of setting aside their opinions to fulfill your best interests?
  • Do you trust them?
  • Are they responsible with money?
  • Do they have a history of financial or legal troubles?
  • Are they willing to take on this critical role?

If you cannot answer these questions in a way that makes you feel confident and protected, you may need to rethink the person or persons you planned to appoint as a substitute decision-maker.

Talking to the right people

Communication is a key component of the relationship you have with your substitute decision-maker. Too often, disputes arise because parties do not see eye-to-eye on an issue, and they cannot ask you for clarification or guidance.

Thus, communicate your wishes sooner, rather than later. Talk to the person you appoint to make decisions for you. Explain what you want and why you have made certain decisions, and let them ask questions or refuse the role if they are uncomfortable.

Documenting your wishes in a comprehensive estate plan can also be critical in preventing confusion.

Making decisions on someone else’s behalf is a significant responsibility. Appointing the right people to these roles can protect you and your legacy.

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