Initiating a discussion about a power of attorney with your elderly loved one can sometimes be uncomfortable, but it is always advisable to think about putting things in order while they are independent. Once you have set things up for your elderly parent, they will know that you will be able to carry out their wishes if, in the future, they are unable to manage their affairs for themselves.
Power of attorney explained
This is a legal document by which the elderly person can appoint one or more people who they trust to assist them in decision making or to make decisions for them. An example of the kind of decision that might be involved is a situation where the older person needs complicated emergency medical treatment and is unable to make the decision whether to go ahead with it or not themselves - their attorney could do this for them.
The importance of power of attorney
If your elderly loved one is no longer able to authorise their own medical treatment or to deal with their own finances due to being mentally or physically incapable, it can be challenging for you to deal with these things on their behalf if you have no authority in law. A power of attorney gives you this authority.
You may need access to your loved one’s bank accounts so that you can pay bills for them, for example, and without a power of attorney, you would need to go through the Court of Protection, which can be quite complicated and take a long time.
Paying for care may be necessary, but without a power of attorney, you would not be able to use your loved one’s funds to arrange care at home or any form of elderly care in a care home.
If your loved one reaches the stage where they are no longer able to live independently or to make decisions about their future care, you may have to make decisions about their future care. Without a power of attorney, you would not be able access any money needed to pay for care or to decide what to do about their property if this needs to be sold.
You may be concerned for their welfare if they are living alone, but without a power of attorney in place, you would not be able to arrange companion care if this would have to be privately funded, even if you know your loved one could easily afford it.
If your loved one dies and has not put a power of attorney in place, you will not be able to access any funeral fund they have arranged, so you would have to pay for the funeral yourself until everything can be sorted out later.
What our customers say
“The security and patience of live-in care has meant my mother has relaxed and her general disposition has improved to no end.”
What if my loved one is worried about losing control?
As long as your loved one is able to manage their own affairs, they will not have to give up any control. They can stipulate when and how a power of attorney could be used, so that, for example, they could limit its power to dealing with bills, but not with major decisions involving the sale of property. Your elderly parent may want to ensure that you are only able to deal with their affairs in the event of them losing their mental capacity.
How is mental capacity defined?
Mental capacity means the ability to make your own decisions and choices. Mental capacity can be lost if the person’s brain function or mental health is disturbed and they are no longer able to understand information well enough to make informed choices or to communicate these. If your loved one now needs dementia care, they are unlikely to have the mental capacity to choose the best care option.
Different types of power of attorney
The two main types are an ordinary power of attorney and lasting power of attorney. An ordinary power of attorney is normally time-limited and is useful for people who are temporarily incapacitated due to illness or accident. It is not suitable for an individual who may lose their mental capacity because they have a degenerative disease such as dementia.
A lasting power of attorney is the best choice for your elderly loved one because it can be put in place far in advance of being needed, while your relative is able to make their own decisions and decide who they would like to grant control to. Elderly people usually choose to give one or more of their children power of attorney.
The first type of lasting power of attorney covers property and financial affairs. It allows the attorney to manage the older person’s benefits, finances and debts as well as the buying and selling of property. The health and welfare power of attorney covers issues of care, medical treatment and housing issues.
Arranging a lasting power of attorney
It is possible to set up a lasting power of attorney without legal help, but many people prefer to arrange it through their family solicitor. If you prefer to arrange it yourself, you should order the appropriate forms from the Office of the Public Guardian or get your loved one to complete and sign them online.
The online form includes guidance and will highlight any errors as it is completed. Your loved one may need to provide evidence that they are capable of decision making and once completed, the form should be sent to the Office of the Public Guardian. Usually, a fee of £110 is charged, although some people may be entitled to a discount.
Because it can take as long as eight weeks to process the power of attorney, it is advisable to ensure it is in place as soon as possible. This way, if your loved one does become incapacitated suddenly, you will be able to deal with their affairs for them.
- The Health and Economic Inequalities in Later Life: Dr Laurie Corna, Lecturer in Gerontology, King’s College London
- Alzheimer’s: What You Need to Know to Provide the Right Care for Your Loved One
- Finances: How to Care for Ageing Parents
- Ageing Without Agency: Rethinking Old Age with Professor Paul Higgs, UCL
- How Live-in Care Can Help You Sleep Better