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How to Pick Your Helpers

Tiffany A. O’Connell, 
Principal Attorney
O’Connell Law LLC

Today I won’t be talking about what documents you should have in your estate plan.  Instead, I’m going to talk about who you should think about for helpers in your estate plan.  I know that ‘helper’ is not the legally correct term to use, but it does help describe what they do.  
Here are the different roles a helper in an estate plan can take.

Personal Representative
A Personal Representative (also known as an Executor) is the person who is appointed by the Probate Court to handle your estate for things going through Probate after your passing.  
Think of the Personal Representative’s role as a financial role.  I would not recommend naming someone in your Will who is either not comfortable with finances or doesn’t have the common sense to get professional help to guide them so that they are making prudent and reasonable decisions.  In addition to this, remember that this is a job, and at times, not a pleasant one to have.  Consider that it may be too burdensome for the person you’ve named.  Finally, consider how family dynamics will be affected by that person serving in that role.  

A Guardian is the person appointed by the Probate Court to care for the day to day needs of a minor child and who steps into your role of being the parent if you are no longer living or are unable to care for your child.  It is very important for you to let the Probate Court know who you would prefer in that role if a Guardian is ever needed.  You do that by having a Will and nominating in your Will who you want to serve as Guardian.
When thinking about who should serve as Guardian, think about a helper who has a similar philosophy as you on raising children or think about a person who will honor what you would have done and what you would have wanted.  You should also think about whether being Guardian would be too much of a burden for that person.  Finally, consider the family dynamics that may result if that person is serving as Guardian.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney Agent
A Power of Attorney Agent is the person you name in your Power of Attorney to step into your shoes to handle (or have power over) whatever you have authorized them to do in the document.  
When picking a Power of Attorney Agent, your analysis of who it should be is very similar to how you chose who should serve as your Personal Representative.

Health Care Directive Agent
A Health Care Directive Agent is the person you name in your health care directive document.  The Health Care Directive Agent will make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated and unable to do so yourself.
When picking a Health Care Directive Agent, pick someone who would be comfortable serving in this role.  Also, consider whether that person would have similar ideas as you regarding medical care.    
A Trustee is the person who is responsible for: 

following the instructions you’ve set out in your trust; 
providing for the trust beneficiaries according to those instructions; and 
taking care and being responsible for the trust assets to accomplish those requirements.  
Just like with the Power of Attorney Agent, your analysis of who it should be is very similar to how you chose who should serve as your Personal Representative.
Importance of Naming Successor Helpers
Since you will not know who will be available when the time comes, I always recommend that you name backup helpers for each helper role.
Want to learn more about estate planning and how to pick your helpers?  Check out O’Connell Law’s events on their website at: .  You’ll even find a webinar workshop on How to Pick Your Helpers.  Go check it out.