A power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to nominate somebody to make important decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so.
A so-called ‘ordinary’ power of attorney covers financial affairs only, while a ‘lasting’ power of attorney also gives somebody the ability to make financial, health and care decisions for you. This would typically only come into effect if you lose the mental capacity to make those decisions yourself.
Powers of attorney can be an incredibly useful tool for those who want to leave their care in the hands of somebody that they trust. Setting one up – and having conversations about how you want your finances and care to be handled – can help to remove some of the uncertainty should you become unable to manage these aspects of your life.
However, the current system for designating somebody as a power of attorney is considered slow and outdated. At the moment, applications are still made using a paper-based process. By the time forms have been completed, received and processed, it can take months for the power of attorney to be completed. As some people choose to set up their power of attorney when their health is deteriorating, this amount of time can be critical.
The government has announced that it will be looking into options for modernising the system. There will now be a three-month consultation, looking into the different ways that technology could be used to simplify and improve the process. This might include making it easier for documents to be witnessed, and using technology to offer better accessibility.
At the same time, they will look into creating a new ‘fast-track’ option, specifically designed to support those who need to set up their power of attorney quickly due to a sudden change in circumstances. This would mean that those trying to deal with a health crisis would find themselves bumped up the queue.
The consultation will also address the need for additional protections against different types of fraud and abuse. Powers of attorney are often applied to the most vulnerable members of our society, so it is important that we have a watertight system with safeguards in place.
All of these changes should help to ensure that the power of attorney system remains fit for purpose in our modern world. Justice Minister Alex Chalk said: !A lasting power of attorney provides comfort and security to millions of people as they plan for old age. These changes will make the service quicker to use, easy to access and even more secure from fraud.”
If you think that a power of attorney might be helpful for yourself or your loved one, you can go to the government website to find out more about what the documents mean and how you can apply for one. Anyone over the age of 18 can make a lasting power of attorney, but typically they are considered by people who have been diagnosed with a condition that is likely to impact on their ability to make decisions for themselves.
It’s also worth noting that you may need to make a power of attorney document even if you are married – don’t assume that your spouse will automatically be able to make decisions on your behalf.