Sadly, there may come a time in your life when you are no longer able to make decisions about your life. That time could come tomorrow, or it could be thirty or fifty years down the track. Deciding who in your life is best equipped to represent your choices when you can’t is not as easy as it sounds. Your beloved partner in life would most often be your first option. However, if your trusted life partner or spouse is no longer a part of your life, your Power of Attorney – in all its various legal forms – is not always who you thought was your next obvious choice.
The days of appointing your first born child out of tradition are well gone. Here is what you need to consider when deciding who is best placed to make important life decisions for you, on your behalf when a trusted spouse or life partner is not an option.
Who do you know well that is also good at cutting through legal, medical and financial jargon?
Acting as your Power of Attorney will often require the person you choose to be:
- confidently assertive in representing your best interests aligned with your values
- organised and resourceful in researching legal, medical or financial solutions to challenges
- able to communicate effectively with legal, financial and medical professionals
- accessible and able to spare up some time to devote to prioritising helping organise your affairs
- calm in the face of crisis
- trustworthy and good at managing your expenses within your defined budget
- on your side in representing the best option for you, aligned with your values and wishes
- comfortable with asking lots of questions to get to the best solution on your behalf.
This is a time to think about your welfare above keeping others happy with your decision
Acting on your behalf to make significant life decisions when you can’t is a life changing responsibility. Assigning that responsibility is not as simple as choosing an eldest child that lives closest to you.
Before you start putting pen to paper, seek legal advice on what type of Power of Attorney you need in place. You may want to appoint an Enduring Power of Attorney for Finance or Medical Treatment; a General Power of Attorney or an Enduring Power of Guardianship.
Then, write down a list of strengths and values you believe your Power of Attorney would need to best represent your financial, legal and medical future. Sort this list into those strengths and values most important to you in making decisions about your life. Now you have this list sorted, start putting names beside each strength and value. You’ll soon find your choose of options narrow down to a practical short list.
Does your prospective Power of Attorney have capacity to represent you well?
The person you appoint as your Power of Attorney ‘agent’ must be willing to take on the role by contractually agreeing to it. A son or daughter juggling work and family commitments and only just getting by themselves, may simply not have the capacity of time or energy necessary to best represent you. Someone living interstate or overseas may not be a practical choice of Power of Attorney because of the logistical challenges living afar while still dealing with paperwork such as Justice of the Peace certifications of hard copy documents. Ideally you want to appoint someone who you trust implicitly and that you are confident will dedicate time to putting your interests first when you can’t have a say.
Your Power of Attorney should be clear on, or share, your values
If you’re someone who values quality of living over having money left over in the bank, you want your Power of Attorney to understand this about you. Being clear on what you value could make the difference between seeing out your later years in discomfort and without dignity versus obtaining the best possible medical care to gain the best possible quality of life for the circumstances you’re facing. Before making your choice, spend some time with the person you want to appoint as Power of Attorney so that you can make your life priorities clear in the event you are unable to make decisions about your future.
Always make sure to seek professional legal or estate planning advice before appointing a Power of Attorney.
Helpful resources on appointing a Power of Attorney
Australian Government resources:
State based trustees such as: