Often the hardest decision a person makes in their estate plan is choosing whom to serve as an agent or fiduciary. The considerations and skills required to be an effective fiduciary are not the same for every document, or in every family. Here are a few helpful tips for who to select to serve in different roles.

Advance Medical Directive

Your health care agent will make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. This includes talking to your doctors, reviewing medical records, and making decisions about procedures, medications, and treatment. You may also authorize your agent to make decisions about what happens to your body if you pass away. Your agent may have to make difficult decisions quickly. It is important to consider who will make the decisions you would have made for yourself and honor your wishes. It is also important to select someone who is likely to be available on a moment’s notice.

Durable Power of Attorney.

Your agent under your power of attorney has the power to handle your financial and legal affairs, either as a matter of convenience or if you are unable to do so yourself. You should select someone you trust absolutely. It helps if the person is organized, detailed-orientated, and has some financial acumen. Acting as an agent under a power of attorney can be a substantial time commitment, and you should consider who will make time to fulfill these obligations if you need assistance.


Your executor is responsible for gathering your assets, paying off your debts, and then distributing the balance to the beneficiaries named in your last will and testament. Organizational skills and financial responsibility are important criteria for your executor. If your family or beneficiaries do not get along, it is important to choose someone who will be objective and fair. If you anticipate issues, talk with your attorney. Estate plans can be structured to help minimize potential conflict.

Successor Trustee

Typically, people prefer to be in the initial trustee of the trusts they establish. The successor trustee will manage trust assets if you are unable to continue to act as trustee. A trustee should have the financial skills to manage your particular assets, whether that includes rental properties, investments, or ownership of a small business. Or, at least be willing to work with the appropriate professional advisors as needed. Trusts are flexible documents and serving as trustee may involve an extended time commitment. Your successor trustee should be someone who is able to serve until you expect all the trust assets to be distributed.

All of the documents listed above can be revoked or amended. As you review your documents, ideally once a year, you will wish to consider whether the agents that you appointed are still the appropriate persons. Does your successor trustee, for example, remain financially responsible, organized and able to work with professional advisors? Or, is your agent under your Advance Medical Directive still familiar with your personal health care views, including end-of -life decisions? Have people moved? Aged? As years go by, you may well decide that some changes are in order.

If you have questions about structuring your estate plan, call 757-722-0611 to schedule a consultation with an attorney. We are experienced in guiding families and individuals through the decision making process.

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