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Who Should I Name to Handle My End-of-life Affairs?

Posted on November 07, 2014

              It is something none of us what to think about.  We know we have to do it.  It is in the best interest of my loved ones.  It is practical, yet grim.  Who do I trust to handle my end-of-life decisions?  Who do I trust to handle my estate once I am gone?  Who do I believe has the ability to understand and protect my affairs?  Who has the emotional stability to do what is right for my surviving family?  What responsibilities are required of the executor? 

                These are often difficult questions which are answered far too lightly.  Most often it falls on the next of kin.  Is she or he the right person for the job?  Am I better off to protect this person by having a professional or another family member accept this responsibility?  Am I overwhelming a loved one with these responsibilities?

                Since I am not an attorney at law, please consult with your attorney on what she or he believes is in your best interest. However, here is some basic information to help with your planning. 

                 First of all, you should choose a power of attorney.  A general power of attorney is a person who will be your representative in private affairs, business affairs or some other legal affairs until the moment of your death. 

                 Another power of attorney is the health care power of attorney.  This person may be the same as your general power of attorney.  The responsibility of the health care power of attorney is to make decisions for you regarding your health care, if you become incapacitated.  This person, acting as your agent, should clearly know your wishes and be willing to accept the responsibility of making medical decisions on your behalf.  This does include making end-of-life decisions.  (A related issue to the health care power of attorney is an advance health care directive, also known as a “living will.”  This is a written statement of a person’s medical and health care wishes.  Again, please consult your attorney for more information regarding a living will.)

                So, those who have power of attorney may act on your behalf until the moment of your death.  Once the moment of death has occurred, the executor of your estate takes over handling your affairs.  This person is most often named in your will.  The executor’s main responsibility is to carry out the wishes of the decedent as directed by the will.  It includes disbursing property to the beneficiaries, the payment of debts, and notification of all creditors. 

                Who can be the executor of an estate varies from one state to another.  Generally, executors come from the immediate family.  This position may be monetarily compensated, but most often it is not, since it is a close relative. The job may be very complicated or very simple, depending upon the estate and to whom the beneficiaries are.  This job requires the maintenance of all property until it is distributed or sold.  Included in the payment of debts is the filing of income tax returns for the year the decedent died.  This also may include the filing of estate taxes, if the estate is large enough, to the state and/or federal government.  Inheritance taxes may be applied depending on the size of the estate and in which state the decedent lived.  (Please, consult with an attorney on these matters.)

                 These responsibilities may seem rather daunting.  The more involved the estate, the more professional help will be needed.  The role of a health care power of attorney may be quite emotional, as well.  Ideally, you want someone with a level head, common sense, who is comfortable in making difficult decisions, and who can work well with our legal system.  This is also true of a contingent power of attorney or executor, if your primary choice is unable to accept the responsibility when the time comes. 

                 Do you have a close loved one who meets this criteria?  Do you believe your family members may struggle with these responsibilities?  Please, for the sake of everyone involved, do not make a snap judgment on these issues.  Do what is best to protect you and your loved ones.  Think it through, consult professionals and consult your loved ones.

 

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