A legal representative is a person who has been empowered with the authority to act on behalf of someone else. He or she protects the interests of clients and is charged with making decisions when his or her charges are unable to do so. Although someone in this position is sometimes an attorney, this is not required, although an attorney is needed to establish someone's status as a legal representative.
There are a number of ways for someone to become a legal representative. Because this position comes with responsibilities in addition to powers, it is generally not thrust upon someone. A person who is being considered for such a position is consulted and given an opportunity to decline or recommend someone else. Once someone has indicated willingness to serve in such a capacity, documentation can be filed to create a legal standing that allows that person to act as a representative.
One example of a legal representative is an executor, a person named in a will to oversee the disposition of the property of a person who is deceased. If the deceased does not have a will, a court can appoint a legal representative. Someone given power of attorney is another example of a legal representative. Powers of attorney can be used to make decisions about health care for people who are incapacitated or to provide a representative with the power to make choices on behalf of a person who does not have the mental capacity for consent and decision making.
Guardians are examples of legal representatives. Guardians can be appointed or may be given their powers by a child's parents, as for example when parents travel and create a temporary guardianship so that a friend at home can provide legal representation for their child. In addition to overseeing the welfare of minors, guardians can also supervise people, often with cognitive impairments and/or intellectual disabilities, whom the law deems incapable of handling their own affairs.
Legal representatives are tasked with putting the welfare of their charges first. They must make decisions in accordance with the expressed wishes of the people they represent while also balancing legal and ethical issues. If they fail to represent someone with due care, a court may revoke the representation and appoint someone more suitable to the case. Concerns that can arise with legal representation include financial and physical abuse of people who may not be able to report the abuse.