Secret Agent Man

The most famous agent in history is probably Bond -- James Bond -- Agent 007. Well, not in history, but, you know what I mean. Expert, resourceful, and deadly, he is everything that a good agent should be.

Except that, well, James Bond is kind of a terrible agent. That's because, regardless of how capable and effective an agent is, his first responsibility is to be faithful in carrying out the intentions of his principal. Yet, Bond, in addition to being an alcoholic womanizer, rarely feels constrained by the parameters of the mission he is given. If he gets sidetracked from the path he is assigned -- hey, this other thing is more interesting anyway. If a few extraneous people get gunned down -- they probably had it coming. That's why poor M is always having to get Bond out of hot water with the ministry or Parliament or whoever. 

While we may never work for Her Majesty's Secret Service, we've all had to appoint an agent at one time or another. It's usually an employee, whether it's the new VP of operations or it's that high school kid you hired to mow your lawn or watch your kids on date night. Or, it could be someone you ask to speak for you or represent you in a particular matter.

A big part of any estate plan is appointing agents to act for you when you can't -- either because you are incapacitated or because you are no longer with us. Executors, trustees, or agents appointed under a medical or durable power of attorney -- each is essential.

So, what makes for a good agent? To sum it up in one word, trust.

What sort of person is worthy of your trust? The prerequisite is that they are honest and will faithfully carry out the duties entrusted to them. In the law, we call this the duty of loyalty, and it's the first and most important duty owed by any fiduciary, including agents. This is where our friend Mr. Bond falls short -- not necessarily that he's dishonest, but more that he goes beyond the duties entrusted to him. You don't want an agent like this -- one who thinks he knows better than you and will do something even if he knows it's against your wishes.

But, simple loyalty is not enough. You also need competence. So, you could have, for example, a child that you believe would be entirely loyal to your wishes, but they may have no experience in dealing with financial matters. This would likely render them a poor choice as executor or as agent under a statutory power of attorney.

We'll look more closely at two kinds of agents next week: those appointed under the medical power of attorney and the statutory durable power of attorney. But, if you haven't taken care of your estate plan, don't wait! Hire a capable -- and loyal -- estate planning attorney today.