Upon graduating from high school, I was blessed to have been elected to a one-year term as president of the Ohio FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America). For those unfamiliar, FFA is somewhat like 4-H, but FFA is a part of formal, public school agriculture education preparing students for careers in agriculture.
Part of my responsibilities that year in that role (which precluded me from having a job or going to college) was to visit FFA chapters and their communities. Without a budget to pay for lodging, I spent three or four nights of every week bunking with local FFA members’ families.
Some families had a snack before bed, and others did not. Some families spent every minute before bed talking and being rowdy. Other families separated and did their own things. Sometimes, parents were up at four or five a.m. making breakfast. In other homes, parents and kids were barely dressed before they raced out the door to work or school.
Despite television creating certain expectations of how a family should function, there is incredible diversity in almost every aspect of every family’s day-to-day life.
For this reason, there is a shared bond among the participants of what many people call their “family of origin.” And, when people become adults, often move away from a family home and sometimes get married, a new family is formed. That new family has its own set of values, experiences and expectations.
Our family members (in families of origin or otherwise) often make the best agents to act for us if we cannot make decisions for ourselves (due to physical or mental limitations) or to administer our estate (what we own) when we pass away.
There is no prohibition on a friend or a professional person from being an agent under a power of attorney or from being an executor of a will. Even attorneys are not prohibited from acting as a client’s agent or executor, as long as the client is educated on the potential/actual conflicts of interest for attorneys acting in these roles and as long as the client consents after learning and understanding those implications.
However, family members are the people most frequently relied upon to be agents and executors, and appropriately so. Our family members have experienced a myriad of little quirks, desires, preferences and disinclinations about our lives that empower family members to sometimes “read our minds.” At a minimum, family members have at least picked up on our values, priorities and tendencies in decision-making.
Certainly, not all family members can be relied upon to be agents under a power of attorney or executors under a will. Nevertheless, ignoring the close relationships that siblings, parents and children have with each other can miss out on incredible value, particularly because our agents and our executors are legally required to do what we want, not what our agent/executor thinks is best for us. The better we are known, the more closely the decisions made for us will reflect what we want.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.