By Don Fraser, Chartered Financial Planner and Director, Capital Asset Management.
My father was a very fit and strong man, he served in the Royal Engineers for 30 years and then became a civil engineer with Trinity House until his retirement. Dad then became a prolific golfer, which the family put down to his Scottish roots. However, dad developed Type 2 diabetes, which he found difficult to control, and then suffered a stroke in his mid-70s. A few years later the early signs of dementia emerged and my mother could no longer care for him in safety, so a local care home was found.
With my mother living alone in a large house in St Albans, she decided that it was time to move to a smaller property with minimal upkeep, and that’s where the problems started. The house was in joint names, as were most of the bank accounts. The solicitor said that without a power of attorney the house couldn’t be sold. Dad no longer had the mental capacity to understand the legal paperwork or consequences and couldn’t sign his name. Mum was stuck and in some distress.
We had to apply to the Court of Protection to act as a ‘deputy’ in respect of our father’s affairs. All the while bills had to be paid; share dividends in my father’s name couldn’t be banked; some major utilities were in his sole name. The phone calls and paperwork were complex and time-consuming. The Court of Protection moved very slowly and by the time the deputy appointment was made, our father had died.
Lessons learned, so whilst mum had a valid will, the solicitor drew up both forms of the (then) new Lasting Powers of Attorney. After a relatively short period of time in sheltered accommodation, in her late 80s mum relocated to a residential care home in Wiltshire near her daughter. The care home asked to see the LPA papers at outset. During the last week of her life, mum declined food and water and the care home manager called the family suggesting medical interventions that could prolong life. We referred them to our mother’s wishes in her LPA that she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. Mum died peacefully in her sleep.
Whatever your family circumstances are now, they will eventually change.
Alison Broadberry, Partner and Head of Private Client at Edwin Coe solicitors explains that according to a 2015 You Gov poll about 62% of UK adults don’t have a valid will, and 85% don’t have a power of attorney. These are dire statistics with potentially dramatic and painful outcomes. And don’t forget, by the time they are needed it may be already too late to get one. If you’re married or in a civil partnership, you may have assumed that your spouse would automatically be able to deal with your bank account and pensions, and make decisions about your healthcare, if you lose the ability to do so. This is not the case. Without an LPA, they won’t have the authority.
- Choose who you want to act for you – Look around you. Who do you trust to act in your best interests? Will they always do what’s right for you and your family, do they ‘get’ you absolutely? Are they competent and worldly-wise? And let’s face it are they younger than you but old enough to make conscientious decisions? Now is the perfect time to make this selection and shortlist trusted family and friends to take on this responsibility. It is possible to choose different people to act in relation to your finances and healthcare and you can include substitutes. It is wise to give any specific instructions and preferences in a private letter to your chosen attorney(s).
- LPAs are not just for the elderly- Michael Schumacher was only 44 years old when he had his skiing trauma. The 2016 study from the Stroke Association shows that 26% of strokes are for those under age 65 and men are at a 25% higher risk of having a stroke and at a younger age compared to women.
- Take personal control before a stranger does it for you – The Court of Protection could end up deciding who acts for you and when irrespective of your own wishes and desires.
- Don’t delay, it’s easy to do – depending on your own time and ability you can complete on-line LPAs yourself but you will need to involve a number of people for the signing process which must take place in a particular order or the forms will be rejected. Alternatively, you can instruct a solicitor to help you and agree on fees in advance.
- Peace of mind – the entire topic may seem like a large inconvenience and best left until ‘later’ but once tackled and completed it will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and immense peace of mind.
At Capital, we believe that doing the difficult right thing is better than doing the easy wrong thing.