Legal expert Mary Casey explains what these documents mean and how they can help if the worst were to happen.
Many people assume, that if something happened which meant you were no longer able to manage your own affairs, like falling ill or an accident resulting in severe injury, your next of kin would be able to step in. In particular, it is often assumed a spouse (whether by marriage or civil partnership) will be permitted to take over our affairs. Unfortunately, without a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) this is not the case. Mary Casey, Senior Associate – Private Client at Lewis Denley explains.
Without express authority access to sole accounts, savings, investments will not be possible, and this could leave your partner without access to essential funds in your account for household bills such as mortgage/rent and childcare. If you run a business, it may not be possible to run it efficiently and effectively in your absence if no-one is authorised to take up the management.
When it comes to medical decisions, medical professionals will consult your family but ultimately, if you do not have an LPA appointing someone to make those decisions medical professionals will be able to make decisions about your treatment and care. This is especially relevant to unmarried couples as your partner may not be consulted at all if other family members are available.
The truth is that no one has legal authority to make decisions on your behalf unless you have given it to them in a Lasting Power of Attorney registered with the Office of the Public Guardian.
It is often assumed that LPAs are for older people and, it is true, that older people are at greater risk of degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s which may impair their ability to look after their own affairs. LPA’s are essential in these situations, allowing family to step in and support the individual.
But LPAs are something everyone should consider. If you suffer an accident or illness an LPA allows another individual to make decisions in your best interests while you are unable to do so for yourself.
Creating an LPA is a simple process, and with the support of an experienced solicitor you can create LPA’s to cover your property and financial decisions as well as your health and welfare, but it must be created when you have the capacity to understand the authority you are giving away.
An LPA allows you to decide who you would like to make decisions, what decisions you want them to be able to make on your behalf, and whether you wish to restrict any actions they could take. You can choose to appoint different people to deal with different decisions, for example, you may choose a spouse or family member for your personal health and welfare and financial matters and a business partner to step into your business affairs.
It is important to talk about LPAs with your family and those you are considering appointing as Attorney. Attorneys must also sign to confirm they are willing to act. You can appoint substitutes if any of your chosen attorneys are unable to act at the time needed.
An LPA must be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian; until such time as it is registered it cannot be used by your Attorney. It can take several months to register an LPA and so consideration should be given to when this is appropriate.
It is never too early to create a Lasting Power of Attorney, but it can become too late to do so in the blink of an eye.