‘It makes sense to have your adult kids audition for control of your affairs’

Jan 17, 2020
Will your choice of enduring power of attorney put a strain on family ties? Source: Getty.

Is an errant adult child the product of nurture or nature? For many parents, it is probably a question too hard to answer, or too late to ask. Either way, parents can feel a subconscious sense of responsibility for their child’s outcomes even if it is the inexplicable consequence of a healthy upbringing or just the unlucky emergence of a recessive gene from a convict past.

All reasonable attempts are usually made to remain a caring parent even into later life when the wayward child invariably comes a-calling with hand out, seeking more parental largesse for their failing fifth start-up, marriage break-up or drug debt. Drawn as they are to help, though, parents can create a simmering tension between siblings, particularly where the achieving children ask for nothing but the failing children are the early beneficiaries of a parental drip-feed.

The sibling tension can explode when the parent dies but it can verge on a holocaust well before then – when a parent loses their capacity and someone has to make decisions for them. In the theatre of later family life, the loss of a parent’s ability to make their own decisions can turn a family from a grown-up version of The Waltons into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

This is often the result of parents trying to do the right thing in earlier life but, in reality, setting their families up for failure in later life. The best example of this is when a single older parent comes to do their enduring power of attorney (EPOA) form. In it, they have to nominate who, usually among their adult children, they wish to appoint to make decisions for them if they lose their capacity.

This can be a diplomatic nightmare, particularly in larger families in which the children are in various stages of achievement or lack thereof. Most parents don’t want to display any favouritism for one child over another but in a misguided attempt to maintain some equilibrium, they can get the decision horribly wrong, such as:

  • A parent who believed that it was best to appoint children in accordance with their expertise, so she appointed her accountant son to make financial decisions for her and her nurse daughter to make personal and health care decisions. This division of labour was a disaster leading, as it invariably would, to destructive demarcation disputes between the two children
  • A parent who appointed the child who was caring for them. This, as is often the case, created a conflict of interest for the child
  • A parent who jointly appointed her only two daughters who hadn’t spoken to each other in 10 years
  • A parent who appointed her eldest child (because he was the eldest) and ignored his significant mental health issue
  • A parent who appointed all four of her children to act ‘severally’, which meant that any one of them could make decisions, turning the decision-making into a horse race.

It is easy to regard the EPOA as a beige bureaucratic form and the making of it as a formulaic process. It is easy to ignore the significant power it places in the hands of the person/s appointed. The last thing a parent wants to do is to have a document that creates a lightning rod for tension in the family.

So, would it make sense for a parent to ‘audition’ their children for the role? After all, the EPOA is required to act in the best interests of the parent and what better way to ensure that than to sit the candidates down and tell them what you would want and assess whether they would be up to it. After all, potentially, they may have to perform a starring role in your later life. Makes sense to me.

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Have you chosen one or more of your kids as your EPOA? Did it cause tension in the family?

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