How to Handle Sibling Disputes Over a Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents, but when one sibling is named in a power of attorney, there is the potential for disputes with other siblings. No matter which side you are on, it is important to know your rights and limitations.

A power of attorney allows someone to appoint another person — an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in place of him or her – the “principal” — if the principal ever becomes incapacitated. There are two types of powers of attorney: financial and medical. Financial powers of attorney usually include the right to open bank accounts, withdraw funds from bank accounts, trade stock, pay bills, and cash checks. They could also include the right to give gifts. Medical powers of attorney allow the agent to make health care decisions. In all of these tasks, the agent is required to act in the best interests of the principal. The power of attorney document explains the specific duties of the agent.

When a parent names only one child to be the agent under a power of attorney, it can cause bad feelings and distrust. If you are dealing with a sibling who has been named agent under a power of attorney or if you have been named agent under a power of attorney over your siblings, the following are some things to keep in mind:

  • Right to information. Your parent doesn’t have to tell you whom he or she chose as the agent. In addition, the agent under the power of attorney isn’t required to provide information about the parent to other family members.
  • Access to the parent. An agent under a financial power of attorney should not have the right to bar a sibling from seeing their parent. A medical power of attorney may give the agent the right to prevent access to a parent if the agent believes the visit would be detrimental to the parent’s health.
  • Revoking a power of attorney. As long as the parent is competent, he or she can revoke a power of attorney at any time for any reason. The parent should put the revocation in writing and inform the old agent.
  • Removing an agent under power of attorney. Once a parent is no longer competent, he or she cannot revoke the power of attorney. If the agent is acting improperly, family members can file a petition in court challenging the agent. If the court finds the agent is not acting in the principal’s best interest, the court can revoke the power of attorney and appoint a guardian.
  • The power of attorney ends at death.If the principal under the power of attorney dies, the agent no longer has any power over the principal’s estate. The court will need to appoint an executor or personal representative to manage the decedent’s property.

If you are drafting a power of attorney document and want to avoid the potential for conflicts, there are some options. You can name co-agents in the document. You need to be careful how this is worded or it could cause more problems. The best way to name two co-agents is to let the agents act separately. Another option is to steer clear of family members and name a professional fiduciary.

Sibling disputes over how to provide care or where a parent will live can escalate into a guardianship battle that can cost the family thousands of dollars. Drafting a formal sibling agreement (also called a family care agreement) is a way to give guidance to the agent under the power of attorney and provide for consequences if the agreement isn’t followed. Even if you don’t draft a formal agreement, openly talking about the areas of potential disagreement can help. If necessary, a mediator can help families come to an agreement on care.

If you would like to learn more about powers of attorney and how you can benefit from having one, please give us a call today!

ESTATE PLANNING FOR YOUR SECOND MARRIAGE

While falling in love for a second time is a beautiful thing, it’s important to be aware that second marriages typically create the need for some fairly in-depth estate planning.

To ensure the bliss of this new union extends far beyond the wedding day, it’s critical to proactively and effectively address how your nuptials will affect your financial liabilities, existing benefits, and distribution of your assets to loved ones.

  1. Communication Is Key

The first and most important step to ensure estate planning success in subsequent marriages is to have open and comprehensive conversations with your spouse and your family. You must clearly articulate your wishes and your concerns, and you must also provide a forum in which family members can share their thoughts and concerns.

Because these conversations can quickly become tactically or emotionally overwhelming, it’s a good idea to engage a trusted estate planning attorney or a professional family counselor. This impartial, professional third-party will ensure that your family conversations are collaborative and productive.

  1. Don’t be Afraid to Ask the Hard Questions

Address estate planning details that are important to not only your long-term wedded bliss, but also the well-being of your entire family. Here are just a few of the key questions that come up in the event of a second marriage:

Do you or your spouse owe any debts to any ex-spouses?

Do either of you have other liabilities that might negatively impact each other’s financial standing?

Is either of you collecting benefits such as Social Security from a deceased spouse, and — if so — do you know how remarriage will affect those benefits?

If either you or your spouse-to-be are on Medicare or Medicaid, do you know if getting married will put the other party’s assets at risk?

If either of you have children from a previous marriage, do you know how you want to handle leaving assets to them and any other heirs?

If there are young children in your family, do you know how you plan to handle any guardianship issues and provide financially for those children?

Have you discussed whether you will keep your assets separate, commingle them, or create a hybrid solution that involves keeping some assets separated and commingling others?

Though this is just a sampling of the kinds of questions that can arise, it’s easy to see how one question can lead to another and another and so on. The complete scope of the situation can quickly become quite broad.

This is why it’s so important to create clarity around your wishes and then put those wishes in writing.

  1. Document Your Plan

Once you’ve come to terms with all the possible issues and done the up-front work of having those important conversations with your family, the last step to put all this to bed is to get the appropriate estate planning documents drafted – Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare directives, etc. Click here to learn more about these.

Estate planning decisions for second marriages and blended families can be complicated. Give us a call and we’ll help you get this done. Once your plan is in place, you can rest assured that your intentions will be carried out.