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Who should you assign as a substitute decision-maker?

Naming people to manage your financial and medical affairs if you become incapacitated is one of the most critical components of your estate plan. It ensures that someone you know and trust will step in if you cannot make decisions for yourself. 

In choosing someone to make decisions on your behalf, you should appreciate what this person would need to do. What choices could they be faced with? What types of situations must they navigate?

What will these people decide?

There are three main categories of decisions that could require a substitute decision-maker:

  • Medical - If you are incapacitated, someone else will need to make decisions for health care treatment. Such decisions could involve termination of life-prolonging interventions, organ donation and where you will receive care.
  • Financial - Various roles can allow a person to buy and sell your property, pay your bills, decide how to pay for your care, access your bank accounts, and essentially make any financial decision. That said, there are restrictions you could choose to put in place.
  • Legal - A representation agreement empowers someone to act on your behalf in the legal sense, which can include personal care matters. A representative could also make or help you make some medical and routine financial decisions, as well.

There are various ways you could assign to cover these decisions if you live in British Columbia. Options can include advance care planning, representation agreements, a committeeship and an enduring power of attorney. 

You could have one person serve in multiple capacities or choose different people for each different role. 

Traits of a good decision-maker

Considering how important these decisions are, it is crucial to select a substitute decision-maker wisely. A person in any of these roles should be:

  • Trustworthy
  • Loyal
  • Organized
  • Detail-oriented
  • Familiar with your beliefs and wishes
  • Capable of acting in your best interests
  • Comfortable making complicated financial and/or medical decisions 
  • Able to handle stressful situations

Understand that if you do not appoint substitute decision-makers yourself, the courts will appoint someone. If this happens, parties that you do not know or trust could hold the fate of your financial, personal, legal and medical needs in their hands. 

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