Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. That’s the mantra we’ve all been taught to adopt in the face of the ongoing coronavirus crisis that has taken lives and disrupted livelihoods beyond anything we could have imagined.
Prior to the pandemic, we simply did not consider a time in which decisions would effectively be made for us – from who we see, to where we go and the environment in which we work. We had no idea what was around the corner – and had we had sight of what was to come, many of us would have taken the steps to plan ahead. Today, planning ahead is a lot harder. Swathes of businesses and scores of individuals depend upon dates set by the government to make decisions, and even those aren’t set in stone.
During these times of uncertainty, it’s important to focus on areas in your life that you can control. Making a care plan is a way of ensuring that your personal preferences are taken into account should you become ill and are not well enough to express them. A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) provides you with the opportunity of appointing someone you trust to look after your affairs in the event that you are too unwell to do so.
LPAs garnered media attention this year in response Kate Garraway’s heart-breaking story of her husband Derek Draper’s year-long battle with Covid-19. As Kate and her husband had not set up an LPA, she was unable to access funds to manage her husband’s care or refinance her mortgage. The lack of valid LPA in place further prevented her from the right to seeing his medical notes due to data protection laws. We are pleased to hear that Derek has returned home after a year in intensive care – however, the story serves to highlight the importance of planning for the unknown.
While it’s important to remain positive as lockdown restrictions ease, we think it is equally important to remind you of the small steps you can take to protect your interests in the future.
What is a Power of Attorney?
A Lasting Power of Attorney or LPA is a document that assigns a person the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf. Powers of Attorney can only be created by a person while they still have the mental capacity to assess the information and make their own decisions.
To keep things straightforward, powers of attorney are separated into two types – one for Health and Care Decisions, and another for Property and Financial Affairs.
The former grants your appointed attorney the power to make decisions on:
- What medical treatment you receive
- Giving / refusing consent to healthcare
- Your daily health and wellbeing such as your diet
- Long-term care and support from social services
- The setting in which you receive ongoing care (i.e., in a care home)
A Power of Attorney for Property and Financial Affairs allows your attorney to make key decisions about how your finances and assets are managed. This may include managing bank accounts, paying bills, selling your home, collecting a pension or benefits if necessary.
Why do I need one?
Considering the circumstances, we encourage clients and their family members of all ages to think about what they would like to happen if the unthinkable occurred. Nobody expects to be in a position where they cannot make decisions for themselves, and we sincerely hope you should never have to experience this. However, the pandemic has put the spotlight on how fragile life can be, and how sudden events can change everything at a moment’s notice.
Even if you do not consider yourself vulnerable, or you have received your vaccine and are protected against Covid-19, forward planning ensures that you are prepared for all eventualities.
Setting up an LPA is something that anyone – regardless of age – who has money and assets to protect and/or wants someone to act in their best interests with regard to healthcare, should do. Much like a Will, it’s a process that is often put off but one that can make all the difference in the long-term.
How do I set up a Power of Attorney?
You can set up a Power of Attorney with the help of a specialist lawyer who can guide you through the process. The first step, as you may have guessed, is to choose your attorney. You can have more than one but do think carefully about who you feel is best placed to make decisions on your behalf. It goes without saying that this isn’t a decision that should be rushed.
Relevant forms will then need to be filled in the appoint the person/persons as an attorney. Once completed and signed, your LPA can be registered with the Office of Public Guardian, which can take up to 10 weeks.
How do you sign an LPA?
Signing and witnessing Powers of Attorney follow a similar process as Wills. Under current laws, a Power of Attorney must be witnessed by an independent adult who is of sound mind.
Although lockdown restrictions are easing, many of us remain vulnerable and will be eager to continue with social distancing measures.
If you are considering setting up an LPA, witnesses can watch you sign your LPA from a safe 2m distance, or even through a window. The original document can then be passed over for witnesses to sign and complete their details. The meeting can be conducted via video, but the signature cannot be electronic as the Power of Attorney must be signed as a deed, so an original signature is required. Otherwise, the court will not accept it.
It’s worth noting that your solicitor will only sign if they are fully satisfied that you are not being subjected to any pressure to sign an LPA and that you fully understand the powers you are bestowing by signing the document. Once they have confirmed this, your lawyer can sign the document and proceed with getting it registered.
To get specialist advice and guidance through the process, please contact us at your convenience using the form below or via our online chat service and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.Chris Hall | 360 Law Services Wills & Probate Solicitor