September was the first ever World Alzheimer’s Month in the UK, with the aim being to both raise awareness and funds for a cause that has become close to the hearts of many. With an estimated 820,000 people over 65 diagnosed with dementia in the UK (according to Age Concern) and more than 15,000 under 65s with the illness, this is a substantial proportion of the population suffering from what is becoming a growing problem. Losing mental capacity is an intimidating prospect for anyone, but there are ways of dealing with it and making provision for it.
A Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) is one way that people have long sought to protect major decisions in their lives by handing control of them to someone they trust. There are two types of LPA - a Property and Financial Affairs LPA and a Health and Welfare LPA, both of which are fairly self-explanatory. One covers property and financial affairs, such as paying bills and selling a home, whilst the other deals with health and welfare issues such as medical care or refusing a life sustaining treatment. Either or both of these types of LPAs can be entered into, there is no requirement that they are drawn up singly or together. To make sure that the LPA has full legal weight it should be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian.
Property and Financial LPAs can be used before mental capacity is lost, provided they have been registered. Health and Welfare LPAs can't be used until they have been registered AND mental capacity has gone.
Once the LPA has been drawn up, signed and registered with the Office of the Public Guardian this is really just the start of the process, and it is important to recognise that this is an ongoing responsibility, particularly with respect to an unpredictable condition such as Alzheimer’s. Recent reports have reinforced this, by highlighting issues that individuals have had with the practical side of an LPA. The BBC, for example, reported on issues suffered by Paul King, whose mother granted an LPA over her financial affairs, which was then sent to and acknowledged by Santander bank. Despite this, the bank subsequently sent an online banking application to his mother’s address, not to him. The same family also had an issue with Barclays bank who, despite the LPA, failed to notify Mr King of a £6,000 withdrawal on the account. What transpired was that Mr King’s mother had gone into the bank and been persuaded to move the money from one account to another but could remember nothing of it. Both banks claimed Mr King wasn’t given full access because they had older, unregistered LPAs on their files (although Mr King disputed this).
The lesson from this is not to avoid using LPAs – they are highly effective and the best way to ensure that personal affairs are handled by those whom the donor wants to have control over them. What is important is that the LPAs have been properly drawn up and executed in the right way and that they are registered with up to date copies sent to – and acknowledged by - the correct parties. For those who have been made an attorney, there is also of course the responsibility of making sure that the donor’s affairs are monitored and properly managed, as would be their own. Whilst Alzheimer’s can be a particularly tough illness to deal with in a friend or relative, a properly prepared LPA, combined with awareness of and involvement in the donor’s affairs, can help to ensure that in such a situation, at least when it comes to the practical arrangements, there is some degree of certainty.