Deciding who decides: appointing a Power of Attorney
How are you placed right now, if you are no longer able to make decisions tomorrow? Your future depends on making wise choices about who makes choices for you, if you’re no longer able to. Here are five important considerations in choosing who will make decisions about your life, when you can’t:
1: People pleasing won’t secure your future
If invoked, acting as a Power of Attorney is a life changing responsibility for all involved. The best person for the job may not be one of your nearest and dearest. Try the following exercise.
Write down a list of people you’d trust to make decisions for you. That list will change depending on whether you’re choosing an Enduring Power of Attorney for Finance or Medical Treatment; a General Power of Attorney or an Enduring Power of Guardianship.
Next, write down a list of traits and values that you believe would be essential to make the right decisions for your financial, medical or lifestyle future. Top of my own list would be ‘highly organised’, ‘has time’ and ‘respects my values’. Prioritise this list in order of importance to you. Now match your lists. You may be surprised at the outcome. But now you have something very concrete on which you’ve base your decision.
2: Talking the talk with the professionals
If you lose the ability to make decisions, the person or people you’ve appointed as Power of Attorney will need to get right into the depths of detail about your legal, financial or medical matters. When choosing who makes decisions for you, make sure they can confidently talk with, and understand professionals such as lawyers, medical specialists and financial advisors. They need to be comfortable with asking lots of questions to get a full understanding of your financial, legal or medical situation.
3: Available and willing
An appointed Power of Attorney (or ‘agent’) must want to take on the role, and agree to it. Someone that is working 60 plus hours a week, with a young, growing family, and living in organized chaos may not have the capacity of time required to effectively represent your needs should the time come. An adult child or sibling that lives overseas and seldom gets home due to work or financial commitments may not be a suitable choice either. In writing your list of traits, availability of both time and ability to focus should be high priorities in your chosen ‘agent’.
4: The business partner test
When it comes to choosing someone to make financial or legal decisions on your behalf, ask the question “if I was to start a business venture, would I go in to partnership with this person?” You’ll swiftly reduce your list once you consider business partner qualities. Think about it. Integrity, organisation, resourcefulness, financial security, ability to manage a crisis well – these are the qualities that will serve you well.
5: A match made on values
Ideally, the person you’re tasking with making decisions for you will hold similar values, or have a very good understanding of what your values are. For example, if you value practicality over aesthetics and your ‘agent’ knows this, they may choose a hospital with renown expertise in the area that will give you the best health outcomes, over choosing a hospital because it has better menu choices and window furnishings!
When making such a critical decision on who can legally make decisions for you, seek professional legal or estate planning advice. Solicitors, state based legal community centres (for example Victoria Legal Aid), State Trustees (State Trustees Victoria) or the Office of the Public Advocate (Victoria) are good places to start.
Helpful plain language resources:
You Decide Who Decides – an interactive, plain language, online document to guide your decision.
Take Control – a downloadable document providing helpful information on appointing a Power of Attorney relevant to residents of Victoria.
Start2Talk - a plain language overview of the legal processes involved in planning ahead, as well as links to information relevant to residents of Victoria.