Don’t Leave Life-changing Decisions in the Hands of Strangers
According to a 2015 report from the SFE (Solicitors for the Elderly), only 12% of adults have created a lasting power of attorney (LPA) to ensure that later life decisions, if needed, will be made by a friend, relative or someone they are close to. However, the report found that 86% of adults stated they would prefer someone they trust to make key decisions should they be rendered incapacitated, meaning most haven’t actually gone as far to make arrangements so this will happen. Without an LPA, people are leaving these life-changing decisions in the hands of strangers — without even realising it.
In this article, we’re looking at the importance of later life planning and what it means if you do not create a lasting power of attorney.
What is power of attorney?
A power of attorney refers to a legal document which you can draft to ensure that, in the event that you become incapacitated and can not make your own decisions, someone you trust can make those decisions on your behalf.
What is ‘mental capacity’?
Mental capacity means being able to make, or communicate, your own decisions, and understand what that decision is, why you are or need to be making it, and the consequences of said decision. If someone loses mental capacity — through a long-term illness such as dementia, for example — then they become unable to consciously make decisions regarding their own welfare.
Types of power of attorney
There is more than one type of power of attorney, and each has a different level of responsibility depending on your status and requirements. These are:
Ordinary Power of Attorney
— This is valid while you still have mental capacity and is suitable for instances where you are, for example, temporarily in hospital and need someone to handle day to day finances/bills, or decisions of that nature. You can use an ordinary power of attorney if you want someone to act for you, but remain under your supervision, and you can specify that only certain decisions can be made if you don’t want to give full authority.
Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)
— This is valid when you lose mental capacity and need someone else to make decisions on your behalf. An LPA can cover decisions relating to property and finances, as well as health and welfare. When creating an LPA, you can determine whether it covers one of these or both.
Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA)
— These were replaced by LPAs in 2007, but if you created an EPA before October 2007, it will still be valid. EPAs provide legal authority for someone to make financial and property decisions on your behalf should you lose mental capacity. As stated above, this is now covered in an LPA, alongside or separate from health and welfare.
The importance of later life planning
Few are aware that, without an LPA in place, any individual’s affairs can be left in the hands of a third party. This means that key decisions regarding their end of life wishes and health treatments could be made by a solicitor, social worker, medical doctor or the courts, instead of a trusted family member or friend.
Mark Hawkridge from Hawkridge & Company comments:
“With an ever ageing population it is of great concern that such a high percentage of the population are currently living with no control over important later life decisions around their housing, assets, heath, and care.
Most people assume that if they suffer an illness or accident, their next of kin will be responsible for vital decisions. The reality is starkly different, loved ones may not be able to make a decision on your behalf unless you have an LPA in place. I would therefore urge people to safeguard their wishes in the event of accidents or illnesses such as dementia by taking the appropriate advice from professionals.”
From the SFE report, it was revealed that only 52% of people with LPAs in place did not use expert legal guidance. Instead, they relied on using online resources, non-legal advisors or ‘off-the-shelf kits’.
Mark Hawkridge and Sarah Hopper of Hawkridge & Company are both accredited members of the SFE, and they share the sentiment that using professional legal support is by far the most sensible way to proceed.
Sarah comments, “An LPA is by far the most powerful and important legal document an individual can have. If you have children, own a home, or have views on your preferred health treatment, we urge you to go to an expert to get the right advice.”
SFE is an independent, national organisation of professionals, such as solicitors, barristers, and chartered legal executives, committed to providing the highest quality of legal advice for older and vulnerable people, their families and carers.
The Law for Later Life team at Hawkridge & Co would be happy to help you plan to safeguard yours or a loved one’s future. We support clients across Medway, Gravesend, Sittingbourne and the surrounding areas, so please do not hesitate to contact us.