Only a few years ago, the Government introduced new legislation in order to enable adults to complete and register ‘Lasting Power of Attorneys’ to cover both their finances and health. Various organisations had been involved in the consultation, such as Help the Aged, Alzheimer’s Society etc. The goal of these new lasting powers of attorney, was that adults, when they were well and mentally capable, would be able to make preparations for their future. If a person lost the ability to manage their affairs, or to be able to make their own decisions, perhaps through a traumatic accident, severe stroke or a type of dementia, they would be able to give power to named people that could then act on their behalf. Within the documentation they could express their preferences, in two important and separate areas;
Property and Financial
The person, if they became unable to make decisions, could state who could take financial decisions on their behalf and they could also express their preferences around the disposal of property and what decisions the named person(s) could make. As it stands now, if someone becomes suddenly incapacitated, families soon discover that they can not access the person’s bank account to pay household bills, write cheques, sell property. At a difficult time already, families and friends find they are powerless to intervene. Somebody in hospital might need to sell their large house to move into a smaller bungalow and have their home adapted from the remaining capital, but if they can not sign documents then they are trapped – often finding themselves fast-tracked into care homes.
Health and Welfare
Again, should someone become unable to make or express their decisions about treatment options, care planning, whether they wanted resuscitation etc then they would be able to identify people, often family members, and transfer to them the power to make those decisions on behalf of the person. Those decisions may even include the right to decline medication and treatment with the likelihood being the person would die (ability to give someone the power to decline life-saving treatment).
By enabling a person when they are well, to consider what types of actions they would want taken in relation to their affairs if they became mentally or physically incapable in the future, should have provided many benefits in removing the uncertainty that growing old or frail can bring. It would also remove some of the pressures from next of kin in taking decisions, because the power of attorney would clearly express the person’s wishes and preferences. For example, it would be easier to decline antibiotic treatment for someone who has had a severe stroke and is doubly incontinent and can not speak or otherwise communicate, even where declining such treatment for say a chest infection, would lead to death IF the person had made this clear in their power of attorney that this was their wish in such a situation.
Sadly the end result of these changes are that to complete and register either Power of Attorney is a particularly difficult and virtually impossible undertaking for a family to do themselves. The application form and process is so very complicated that completed applications are continually returned by the Office of the Public Guardian. People soon realise that they need to pay a solicitor to complete these applications, because they process has been made so difficult it excludes the public from making these arrangements themselves – as had been the original thinking behind the changes. Turning to the costs, to register these documents is £240 EACH. Even if the Office of the Public Guardian find they are unable to register the documents because of something small, like a box has not been ticked, the entire application pack must be re-completed again and yet they STILL require the £240 payment anyway.
Anyone working or otherwise involved with adults who become ill and incapacitated would appreciate the value of having clearly identified responsible adults able to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated adult. For the person taking those decisions, to have a clearly recorded indication of the person’s preferences would be invaluable to them in such difficult times.