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Commentary: Attorney can smooth path for families making legal plans

Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Carol: My parents are in their 60s and have decided that they need to have their legal paperwork updated. I think that this is smart and my siblings agree. The problem is that my parents want to designate me as their power of attorney for both health care and financial decisions since I live in their community. Unfortunately, my siblings feel slighted. While I don't love the idea of having this responsibility, I have no problem doing what's needed when the time comes. My brother lives 500 miles away and my sister lives over 800 miles in the other direction, so this seems to be the sensible decision. There's no concrete reason why my siblings would object to this arrangement except for sibling rivalry. My siblings would be assigned as secondary POAs and they would have their equal shares laid out in the will. How do we get over this bump? — ST

Dear ST: I congratulate your parents on their smart decision to update their legal documents. Time goes by fast and circumstances change, but these issues often seem like too much bother so people put off updates. Your siblings should be happy that this is being done. Still, family dynamics can get in the way of logic.

Adults need to name someone to handle health care as well as financial decisions in the event that they are rendered incapable of handling their own affairs. In most states, both types of documents can name secondary (consecutive) POAs. This puts one or more people in place to take over duties if the first assignee can't follow through, or declines for any reason.

This arrangement also signals the other adult children that they aren't being left out of the process. Assigning them a secondary role isn't a complete fix for hurt feelings, but it can help. Additionally, some states allow co-agents so that decisions can be made together, but this can cause issues, especially in a health emergency, since both parties agree before action can be taken.

I'm assuming that your parents are seeing an attorney. This attorney should be skilled at helping families make solid decisions. If one adult child is an accountant, it might be logical for that person to be the financial POA even if he or she lives out of the community. If one adult child is completely incompetent with money, then obviously, the opposite is true.

My view is that your parents are being both practical and wise in how they are handling this. You live in the community. You will likely be the primary caregiver, or at least the person first on the scene in emergencies. This makes you the logical person to have the POAs in hand.

Perhaps your siblings would be less averse to this arrangement if you all went with your parents to meet the attorney. This is up to your parents, of course, but the attorney then becomes the third party who can soften the issues caused by family dynamics.

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