“Life is what happens whilst you are busy making other plans ….”
Have you thought about who would look after your financial and business affairs or your personal wellbeing if the time comes when you can no longer do that yourself?
You might think that a spouse, partner or close family member could take decisions for you but that isn’t the case. In fact, no one has the right to make decisions for you without legal authority. A Power of Attorney is a document which appoints one person (or more than one person) to make decisions about your money and property and/or your health and personal welfare.
There are two types of Power of Attorney:
- a Continuing Power of Attorney which covers all financial matters, for example dealing with your house, your bank accounts, investments, payment of bills, or taking business decisions. It can be used before the granter loses capacity if need be – for example to cover absence abroad.
- A Welfare Power of Attorney, in contrast, only operates once you lose capacity and deals with personal welfare issues, for example authorising medical treatment or deciding on suitable accommodation for you if you are no longer able to live at home.
For both Continuing and Welfare Powers of Attorney, it is important that you appoint those you trust and who understand your views and your feelings. You can appoint different individuals to act as Continuing and Welfare Attorneys or you may wish to appoint the same person to do both. An Attorney is obliged to act in your best interests and in accordance with your wishes however expressed. They are also obliged to account to you for what they do.
Don’t leave it too late – some people think that a Power of Attorney is something that they will do when they “get older” but things can change quickly and unexpectedly through accident or sudden illness at any age, at which point it may not be possible to put a Power of Attorney in place. In that event, it may be necessary to go to Court and have a financial or welfare guardian appointed for you, which is a much more complex and costly process. Far better for you to take the initiative and put a Power of Attorney in place while you are fit and well and have capacity to make your own choices. If the Power of Attorney is never needed then so be it, but if it is required, you and your loved ones will be glad to have it in place.
Once you have signed a Power of Attorney you don’t immediately lose control over your affairs. In fact, you can continue to deal with the management of your affairs as long as you are able to do so, and later on with the encouragement and support of your Attorney if need be.
It is important to take proper advice on the type of Power of Attorney most suited to your circumstances and how best to structure it, but it pays to plan ahead. National Power of Attorney Day aims to encourage everyone to tick Power of Attorney off their “to do” list.
Fiona R Fleming, Partner