When you are planning for your death and incapacity, one of the first questions is who would be your fiduciary? Your fiduciary is one of the key decision-makers in any estate plan, and the potential roles include your successor trustee, personal representative (i.e. your executor), your attorney-in-fact (your power of attorney) and your designation of health care surrogate.
What is a fiduciary?
A fiduciary is a trusted person or institution that can act for you upon your death or incapacity. A fiduciary is held to the highest standard of trust in the legal world. For estate planning purposes, your fiduciary roles can be separated out in three different ways. First, you need a fiduciary to handle your affairs upon your death, who would be a successor trustee and personal representative. Second, you need an attorney-in-fact to handle your financial and legal affairs if you become incapacitated. You name this person in your durable power of attorney. Finally, you will need a health care decision maker if you are unable to handle your medical decisions. In Florida, you nominate this person in a designation of health care surrogate. Often, the same person can serve in all of these roles.
Who should act as my fiduciary?
First, you must trust the person you name in any role. There is no better way to create problems in your estate plan than to name an untrustworthy person. After that, the person you name should be able to act if needed. Someone who lives out of state, for instance, may not be a great choice if you have a trusted local person. Finally, you must trust this person’s ability to run your affairs. The person you name should have the financial and emotional ability to handle difficult situations in being your advocate.
What if I do not have any children or family?
While most people look to family fiduciaries, this is not possible for everyone for a variety of reasons. If you do not have a trusted family member who is able and willing to assist you, some estate planning attorneys serve as fiduciaries. If your estate planning attorney will not do this for you, he or she may know professional guardians and banks who could help you in the event of your death or incapacity. As an elder law attorney, our law firm serves in this role for some clients.