As someone’s agent or Executor, you have a challenging but extremely important job ahead of you. If someone trusts you enough to put their end-of-life care or the carrying out of their post-death wishes in your hands, there can be a lot to live up to. My hope is to give you direction as you care for your loved one or their estate. 

Dos and Don’ts For Agents, Executors, or Personal Representatives

If you have been appointed as an agent under a Financial Power of Attorney or Advance Medical Directive, OR if you have been appointed as an Executor or personal representative of someone’s estate, I have written some basic dos and don’ts to help you move forward:

#1 Legal Instructions and Decision-making

DO:

Do refer to financial, medical, or general estate instructions your loved one has previously laid out. Some of these instructions are legally binding, meaning not following them is a crime. 

DON’T:

Do not take any action that is contrary to the instructions set out in your loved one’s Will, Trust, Financial Power of Attorney, or Advance Medical Directive, as this puts you at risk for being criminally charged.

#2 Non-binding Wishes and Decision-making

DO:

Do honor your loved one’s non-binding wishes as much as possible.  Make decisions based upon what your loved one has communicated to you. If an issue arises that they have not addressed, make decisions in accordance with what you think they would do or want if they were able to choose for themselves. This is one way to do justice to them as human beings. 

DON’T:

Do not fulfill responsibilities without at least considering your loved one’s preferences. In some cases they may be impossible to carry out, but many times they are doable if you are willing to take the extra step.

#3 Handling Finances

DO:

Do keep a record of any action you take as a personal representative, in case you are called upon to prove that you have acted in a legal manner and in your loved one’s best interest.

DON’T:

Do not spend your loved one’s money for any reason outside the instructions set forth in their legal documents. Do not spend your loved one’s money, even in a permissible way, without keeping a record of those actions, as you may be called upon in court to give account for what you did with their finances.

#4 Original Documents vs. Copies

DO:

Do keep original documents in your safekeeping in the event that you are in a situation where a copy is not acceptable.

DON’T:

Do not give away original documents for any reason, as you may have to show proof of originals in different situations.

 

If you have more specific questions about decision-making for a loved one, or about administering an estate, please contact my firm. I would love to help you sort through all the details that come along with your role as agent or Executor.

Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is a licensed attorney in both Virginia and West Virginia. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and has been practicing law for over 15 years. Josh specializes in estate planning and estate administration, elder care, and business law. He is co-author of the recently published book, “Fearless: Facing the Future Confidently with Relational Estate Planning”, and is passionate about helping others form end-of-life plans that benefit their loved ones and leave their legacy behind. Outside of work, Josh loves reading, traveling, and spending time with his lovely wife and their four vibrant children.