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Multiple Agents Can Go Wrong

When you have more than one child, how do you decide on an agent for your health care decisions?

Your first instinct may be to name all your children as co-agents to avoid favoring one over another. This could be the perfect choice for you and your family if your children are close, get along, and can be counted on to act unanimously to carry out your wishes.

But if not:

Some people default to birth order, naming the oldest child as first agent, with the next oldest child named as alternate, and so on. But you may want to be more thoughtful in designating your agent. Your first question should be which of your children can you count on to carry out your wishes? If you do not want life-prolonging treatment, but you know your son could not make the hard decisions if the time came, maybe he should not be named. If there is one child who lives close by and is actively involved in your life, that child may be the best choice.

The sad case is if you’ve named more than one child, and they can’t agree. For example, it may be that you can no longer live at home without care. Your children might not be able to agree on how to provide appropriate care. There may be disagreement over in-home care or care in a facility.

Or, if your children aren’t geographically close, they may fight over choice of a care home closer to where one child lives. This could play out in refusal of one child to cooperate in investigating possible facilities.

This also raises the question of coordinating your agent for financial matters. If one child controls your financial assets but is not also a health care agent, the child with financial control could undermine the health care agent by refusing to pay the bill.

The only recourse may be court proceedings.

This could all have a much happier ending with sibling relationships kept intact. First, if you decide to name only one child as your health care agent, let your children know and explain your reasoning. If there is unhappiness, better to know and deal with it now while you can. Equally important is to have conversations with all your children about your care wishes. If you are adamant about remaining in your home and you have the resources to afford in-home care, make sure everyone knows that is your wish.

If you have specific wishes for end-of-life care, at a stressful and emotional time, your children will be better prepared to make sure your wishes are carried out.

Planning Ahead Column

By Lisa C.Alexander, Esq.

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