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Power of attorney: is it help or hell for vulnerable relatives?

do I need power of attorneyWhat would you do if an elderly parent fell ill suddenly and couldn’t cope? There are a thousand issues to organise just around care and daily living, let alone dealing with the bills. And, if left alone, unpaid demands can rapidly escalate into serious debt issues.

A major problem with bills, banks and credit companies is that they usually won’t deal with anyone other than the authorised bill-payer. You could very well find yourself in a nightmarish situation trying to raise funds, for care or other commitments, from the incapacitated person’s current account and, understandably, the bank won’t let you.

One precaution which many families take is called power of attorney. This is a legal document which allows the attorney, usually a friend or family member, to make decisions on behalf of someone should they become mentally incapable. There are two versions of it: one concerns health and welfare, the other financial matters. The problem is that it takes normally ten weeks for the Office of the Public Guardian to register a POA. For some, that is too long. So many people draw one up before the crisis hits.

On the surface, this seemed to be such a great idea that the Minted family obtained a POA for Grandpa, should it ever be required. All well and good, except recently a former judge, Denzil Lush, has publically declared that the POA system has far too much potential for abuse with ‘devastating’ consequences should it happen.

One of the main problems concerns whether the attorneys (there are usually two or more) can make decisions individually or whether all attorneys must agree before an action can happen. A recent Telegraph story highlighted one family where two brothers were each attorneys with powers to act individually (in the jargon, jointly and severally). Sadly, one of the brothers stole £125,000 of their father’s money.

Worryingly this is the option we picked for our POA. It was convenient in case one or other of the attorneys was out of the country and swift action was necessary. It is also the option which the official guidance to filling in the application form encourages you to take. Here’s the quote: ‘Most people choose jointly and severally because it is the most flexible and practical way for attorneys to make decisions.’ But, even though neither of Grandpa’s attorneys (I’m one of them) are going to go rogue, I’m wondering whether we should change it.

I still believe that getting the POA was a good decision. Hopefully we will never need to use it and, if the worst happens, it’s a useful precaution. However, I would advise anyone applying for a POA now to choose their attorneys with care. It may also be worth seeking legal advice, even if it costs.

Find the application forms for a POA on the government website here


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Monday, 22 April 2019