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How To Choose
Your Agent or Representative

In previous ElderWise articles, we have talked about the wisdom of writing the documents that will help others to speak on your behalf when you can't do it for yourself (see Related Reading below).

It's certainly wise to write your advance directive for health (sometimes known as your "living will") or to designate your power of attorney, but both these documents involve appointing an "agent" or "representative". How do you choose? 

Most people will think first of other family members; e.g., spouse, siblings, adult sons or daughters. For many families, choosing from among the relatives will make the most sense. 

But what if you have  relatives  who are not willing?  Or you are concerned that they might be not able to take on the responsibilities?  What if the person you want to name is not very well, physically or emotionally?  If you have more than one child, how do you include each without offending anyone? What if they don't get along with each other?

Here are some factors to consider when choosing your representative.

  • Ask yourself:  which of my friends or relatives knows me the best? Would they willingly act on my behalf? Will they know what I would want? Do they hold some of the same values as I do?
  • Making decisions about your health care and managing your financial matters are two distinct responsibilities. They can call for different skills and roles. To act as your agent for health care decisions might be emotionally demanding. This person may have to decide whether to give permission for a treatment, or to participate in choosing where you will live. They will also have to collaborate with health care providers and probably with other family members. 

For managing your finances, you may want to choose someone who has business or financial experience...or someone who is highly organized and detail-oriented. Perhaps your son would be the best agent for health care decisions because he has some experience with health care, but your daughter would be the best for power of attorney because of her experience as an accountant.

  • Once you identify the roles and challenges of a representative, you could consider asking more than one person to accept the responsibility. For example, you might ask your son and your brother to work together because you know that they would make a good team. 
  • If you know that family members will not be able to fulfill these roles without considerable conflict, then consider asking a trusted professional, such as those listed below, to act for you:

    a. Accountant
    b. Financial planner
    c. Estate planner
    d. Lawyer
    e. Banker
    f. Trust company

Finally, don't just write it and forget it.  Just as you would with your will, you should update these documents whenever your circumstances - and those of your agent or representative - change.

Related Articles:

Powers of Attorney and Guardianship

Sibling Rivalry

"I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to be Lois' power of attorney."
Read Brenda MacDonald's story by clicking on the Relationships tab in the 
ElderWise Library.  

Decide for Yourself is your complete ElderWise guide to writing your power of attorney and personal health directive in Canada. For more information and to purchase this e-guide, click here.

 Vol. 5, No. 5
� ElderWise Publishing 2009.
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Publishing, a division of ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.

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