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How to Deal with Power of Attorney Disputes involving Children


Advance directives like a financial power of attorney or a Designation of Health Care Surrogate can provide peace of mind to seniors in their golden years. With these documents, you can ensure that someone you know and trust will be making important decisions for you in the event of incapacity.

However, disputes often erupt about who to appoint as your agent or surrogate. This is the person who will make the decisions for you, and we have found that sometimes children or other people squabble about who should serve in the role. Below, we present some ideas for how to defuse these disputes.

Explain Why and How You Picked Your Agent

Often, there will be hard feelings if you name one of your children as your agent. Your other children might feel that you don’t trust them or that you love the child you named as agent more. These are typically irrational feelings, but nevertheless you need to deal with them.

Sit down with your children and discuss who you have named as your agent/surrogate and explain the reasoning. For example, you might have picked the child who lives closest to you or the child who has the fewest job responsibilities. If one child is in ill health, you might not have named him out of fear that he will die before you or be incapacitated himself. Usually, if you explain your reasoning, your children should calm down.

Make Each Child an Agent

If you have two children, another option is to name one child your agent for financial matters and the other your surrogate for health care decisions. In this way, each child feels that he or she is helping to take care of you in your old age. Of course, problems can arise, especially if you need expensive medical care and your children disagree about whether it is necessary. But following this route can sometimes allay any feelings that one child is being left out of important decision-making.

Draft Your Advance Directives Carefully

Sometimes, children fight because they fear that their sibling will keep them away from you. Everyone has heard stories about a child who begins to act in a high-handed manner once the power of attorney springs into effect. You can assuage these fears by meeting with your elder law attorney to draft a power of attorney that guarantees your child’s access.

However, tread carefully. There may be situations where seeing your child could be upsetting, so it might be more effective to give your surrogate the right to decide who can see you. Discuss this issue with your attorney before raising it with your children.

Think Twice Before Naming Co-Agents

Some experts suggest you might name two people to serve as agents. For example, both of your children could be the agent for a financial power of attorney. This is a decision you should not make lightly. After all, your children might continue to fight once the power of attorney takes effect, which could be detrimental to your well-being.

Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group is Here for You

If you are considering creating advance directives, you need to choose an agent or surrogate in a thoughtful manner. At our firm in The Villages, we meet regularly with people planning for their golden years, and we can help you think through who you want to act as your agent when you are incapacitated. Please contact us at the Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group to schedule a free initial consultation.

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