Powers to the People
If you haven’t organised a Power of Attorney, do it now. You may think it is a license for someone to make off with your money. The truth is, it can be. This happens. So it is essential to choose carefully, when considering whom you would like to represent you.
Powers of Attorney can help older people, or anyone else, protect themselves against a times when they are not able to speak for themselves. But even the closest relatives and friends can act uncharacteristically when large sums of money are involved.
Organising Powers of Attorney is nowhere near as difficult, complicated or expensive as you think. It is one of the few things on Planet Elderly that is straightforward. Nevertheless, an alarming number of people do not have Powers of Attorney in place.
In the vast majority of cases, you do not even need to employ a lawyer to set them up. It can all be done online here. It costs up to £164 – less if you earn less than £12,000 a year – for Powers covering both finances and health/welfare. And it will mean that your chosen Attorney, not the state, not the NHS, not social workers, not your bank manager can make decisions for you – life or death decisions, decisions about switching off machines and resuscitation, decisions about your money and your care. It could well save time, money and potentially an awful lot of unpleasantness in the long run.
But you need to do it now because you cannot create a Power of Attorney when you most need one – ie when you are incapacitated. If you get dementia or are unable to make decisions, you will not be able to appoint an Attorney and others will make decisions for you – possibly not the people you want. Giving someone a Power of Attorney gives them the legal right to act for you – so you are not relying on doctors or others.
What is a Power of Attorney?
It is a legal document which gives one or more people, the power to act on a person's behalf or represent them – if they are incapacitated or even if they are not;
If you have a Lasting Power of Attorney covering money and property, it would give the ‘Attorney’ the right to go to the bank and sign cheques on your behalf. It could allow them to talk to businesses, the electricity company or any official people;
If you have an LPA covering health and welfare, it make a could give the Attorney the right to talk to doctors, social workers or carers – on your behalf.
What it is not:
It does not give the Attorney power over the individual – unless that person becomes incapable of making decisions because of dementia or ill health. You can change your Attorney at any time - while you have 'capacity';
It does not give the Attorney the right to make off with the donor’s property or to take decisions out of the donor’s hands – again unless they want them to.
Writers for OLM had Powers of Attorney for their parents and they were very happy to leave all financial and welfare matters to them. It possible to speak to doctors, carers and everyone else on their behalf, which means an older person does not have to. Of course, it is important that attorneys keep older people informed and only do what they want to be done. But it can take a lot of worry off an older person - although the attorney can end up running two houses.
Being an Attorney is a considerable responsibility, so you need to choose your Attorney carefully and they need to think carefully before accepting. They will need to assume responsibility in serious situations - if you are in hospital, for instance
You can appoint different Attorneys to look after your financial affairs and your health/social welfare.
You can appoint a lawyer or another professional. That will cost money but, in the case of finances, if there is a lot of money involved - or even if there isn't - it might make sense to appoint an independent person. Most people know several family 'Attorneys 'who have played fast and loose with their relative's money and possessions. See below;
To avoid family arguments, it may be a good idea to appoint more than one - preferably three. It would mean less pressure on one or two and it would also make it less likely that one person will clear you out – although they could always get together!
Above all, you need to make sure your Attorney knows your views, particularly in terms of health, because they will be representing you and carrying out your wishes. So you need to decide if you would want to be resuscitated or not and whether you want to donate your organs – and tell them;
You also need to make sure that your Attorney does not conflict with your next of kin, if you choose somebody other than your next of kin for your Attorney. This can cause all sorts of problems. So in most cases, it is advisable to choose the next of kin or kin anyway for your health Attorney anyway;
Your Attorney should also be aware that they are responsible to the Courts and have grave legal responsibilities. It is not something to be taken on lightly. And it dies with you. The day you die, the Attorney ceases to have any authority. Your affairs then become the responsibility of the executors of your Will – who may be the same people. Click here to move onto Wills;
Anyone over 18 can be an Attorney. Obviously, you want someone who is reliable, financially competent and in easy reach. You can change your Attorney, if you’re not happy and appoint new ones at any time – as long as you are still deemed competent;
Powers of Attorney have now become so common that care homes and hospitals expect you to have them and will ask.
It is rare to see cases come to court in respect of Attorneys, although some do. But OLM is personally familiar with several cases in which an older person's child has used their parent's money as though it were their own - both with and without Powers of Attorney.
In one case, the parent was effectively cleaned out by their favourite daughter, who even used her mother's money to pay for her son's wedding, university costs and school fees and their own expensive lifestyle. Even the weekly shopping was paid for by the parent, who refused to believe what was happening - even after their home was sold and they were dumped in a cut-price care home. They were too scared even then to complain, for fear they may not see their favourite child again. They didn't, once the money was all gone.
In another case, a well-heeled son used his parents' money as his own over a period of several years, spending on an expensive lifestyle and holidays, while his parents died penniless. They were reduced to penury, but he did not have Power of Attorney. They had trusted him.
Meanwhile, another professional son, who did have a Power of Attorney, used his parents' estate as his own, buying costly gifts for himself and his family, knowing that other members of the family would say nothing for fear the Police would get involved.
So make a Power of Attorney - but take care and be fair.