Decisions. Life is full of them. And every day you probably make hundreds of decisions, from the minute you sit down to breakfast to the time you go to bed.
But what if you suddenly couldn’t make those decisions any more? If, for whatever reason, your mental capacity became impaired to the point that you could no longer effectively manage your finances or take educated and informed decisions about your healthcare?
Many people assume their next of kin will automatically be in charge if anything happens to them. But this isn’t the case.
And the question is, who will make the decisions if you can’t?
As we get older, these are issues we need to consider. And while it isn’t a comfortable or pleasant topic, it’s an important conversation to have if you have elderly parents or relatives.
This is where you, or they, would benefit from the peace of mind of a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).
What does this mean?
Essentially, you are legally allowing someone else to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so*.
If the thought of making someone else’s decisions – or they making yours – is unsettling, then here’s something to consider. Life throws us curve balls sometimes. And while we can’t anticipate each and every one, we can be as prepared as possible. It’s far better for a person to state who they want to do this in the event than for a stranger to take over.
Who can make an LPA?
Anyone over the age of 18 with sound mental capacity. So this means not waiting until it’s too late. You need to fully understand every aspect of your LPA – not an easy thing to think about, but a good insurance policy for the future.
What does an LPA include?
There are two types of LPA – property and financial affairs, and health and welfare.
1 Property and financial affairs
This covers everyday issues like paying bill, managing your bank and building society accounts and picking up your pension. It also includes your wider financial affairs, such as investment and welfare benefits, selling your property and managing your business.
Clearly, dealing with ongoing business affairs is quite different to managing a pension or personal finances. So you can appoint more than one attorney. It makes sense to consider business partners or colleagues for the work aspects and a trusted family member or friend for the more personal side.
2 Health and welfare
This covers things like where you live, your day-to-day care, who can visit you, what you eat and the type of activities you take part in.
You can also appoint your attorney to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment. It’s serious stuff, and it’s seriously important. Under these circumstances, someone other than you will have to make a decision, and it will be a health professional if you don’t nominate an attorney.
If you do choose this option, then you should be aware it will overrule any previous decisions you’ve made or documents you’ve signed about your healthcare.
Looking after elderly relatives
For the formative years of your life, your mum and dad or other carers will have made all your decisions for you. If the tables have turned and you’ve found yourself looking after them, or an elderly relative, you’ll notice they are likely to increasingly defer to you.
So it’s important they are aware of the benefits of an LPA. Whether they appoint you, another relative or a friend, it’s wise for them to start thinking about this as their years advance.
It’s not being pessimistic. Hopefully they’ll remain in good mental health all their days. But, as with any type of insurance or protection, it’s about planning and being realistic about possibilities.
Thinking ahead for you too
Nobody wants to worry about their future all the time. But sometimes things happen, and suddenly. Speak to your spouse, partner or a trusted friend or relative about being an attorney for you – they may ask you to do the same for them. You can discuss wishes and thoughts at this stage, too.
What happens if I don’t have an LPA?
Decisions will still need to be made, and who does this will be a person appointed by the Court of Protection. This could be a member of social services or another professional – in other words, not necessarily the person you or your family would have chosen.
Things to consider when making a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA):
- Choose someone reliable and capable of making sometimes-tough decisions. Don’t feel pressurised into picking a certain person because you’re related to them, or they’re a friend.
- You might want to appoint more than one attorney to cover different aspects of your life. A professional might charge for their time, but might also be the best person for certain areas.
- Make sure whoever you appoint is willing to carry out the role.
- Think about appointing a replacement attorney, in case your first choice is unavailable or incapacitated themselves.
It’s important that you get clear legal advice before you take out your Lasting Power of Attorney. A solicitor can give you some pointers about filling out and registering your form, making sure you’ve covered all the bases.
*A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) should not be confused with an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA), which has now been phased out.