Q: I was wondering if you can help me. I thought you may know of a business firm, not an attorney or health care provider, that can act as my “end-of-life-agent”. I want to be prepared as I have no family to ask or friends young enough that I would trust. My attorney says that he can draw up trust documents, but he can’t be my “end-of-life” agent.
It seems that no attorney can (be my end-of-life agent) due to it being against their liability insurance. So, what I’m looking for is a business person who can read my end-of-life wishes and carry them out. I need someone who agrees by contract to carry out my specific written wishes. Of course, when that is needed, they will be compensated for this in my estate. Do you have any suggestions?
A: There are two parts to your question. First, you may face end-of-life decisions while you are alive, which may pertain to your health or financial matters. Second, you have decisions to make now as to what happens to your estate once you have passed on and who will carry out those wishes.
While you are alive, we can understand how your attorney would see a conflict in making health care decisions for you or even deciding when to tell the doctors that they should no longer provide medical assistance. In this situation, your attorney would like to know that you have chosen a friend or relative to make those decisions.
We’ll start by saying that most estate attorneys would advise you to have a last will and testament, a power of attorney for health care, a power of attorney for financial matters, and a living will.
The last will and testament lets people know how you wish to distribute your money and personal property after your death. The power of attorney for health care lets a family member or friend make decisions about your health care, if you cannot, and work with your doctors to carry out your wishes regarding your health.
The power of attorney for financial matters allows someone other than you attend to your finances, including paying bills, selling assets and taking care of your financial affairs when you are incapacitated. Finally, a living will is a document that lets the medical community know your wishes as to what medical treatments should be given to you to keep you alive and when to stop any treatment.
If you can’t find a friend or family member to help you with your health care and financial matters if you become incapacitated, your attorneys won’t want to draft those documents and also name themselves in those same documents. Family and friends are key parts of our lives, but some people either don’t have family or the kind of friends they wish to ask this of (it can be a significant ask, depending on what happens) and prefer to have a neutral party handle their affairs when they either become incapacitated or they are at the end of life but have not yet passed away.
These sorts of decisions about when to stop life-saving medical treatment (even if you have a living will) are emotionally fraught. You want someone to be able to separate emotions from making a tough call, who will be willing and able to carry out your final wishes while you are alive: decisions about your health care, your living situation, and managing financial affairs.
Without friends or family, you’ll need to find support. And you may need two different kinds of help, because you could potentially have a situation where you need one type of assistance while you are alive and another after you have died.
While you are alive, you can still set up a living will. You can deliver a copy of that living will to your personal physician or primary care person. They, in turn, can deliver a copy of the document to a hospital if something happens and you wind up there. You don’t need to appoint anybody on a living will. You just have to make it readily available. Can your local hospitals keep it attached electronically to your file? Perhaps. What happens if you are traveling abroad and you need to go to that hospital? In that case, you might need to carry a copy in your wallet or with your passport.
If you become incapacitated for a longer period of time, you will need someone to step in and handle your financial affairs. While your attorneys can’t help you, they may be able to recommend a different attorney, accountant, financial planner or financial advisor who could assist you. Take care, because this individual (or firm) will control your money when you can’t, and you take a big risk if you don’t know who they are and haven’t thoroughly vetted them.
You should know, once you have passed away, there are companies that can help you with estate issues and assist your estate, such as estate settlement and wealth transfer advisors. For example, if you set up a trust, they can act as the successor trustee and proceed to follow your wishes relating to your estate plan after you die.
Trust companies are also set up to perform the services you’re asking for. These companies usually work with high or higher net worth people. If you fall into that category, you can call on them to help you out.
You won’t have to deal with a particular person, as the company will act as your trustee and whoever is assigned to your estate when you die would work to follow your estate plan. They can be expensive, but perhaps this sort of solution would work. We don’t make specific recommendations, but you can look for a bank or other financial institution in your area that has a trust and estate services department. You can talk to them and see if it’s right for you.
Having said that, if you don’t want to or can’t spend the kind of money that some of these companies charge, you may find an estate planning firm that can work with you in taking care of your estate and follow your wishes after you have passed.
Readers, we don’t believe our correspondent is the only person to have run out of family or friends who can take on these roles. Have you seen or experienced other solutions? Write us and we’ll publish relevant responses in a future column.
(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through their website, bestmoneymoves.com.)