Power of legal professional: Maintain your funds and your well-being

September marks World Alzheimer’s Month and is a reminder that dementia remains a disease that affects many households and families around the world – here in Scotland.

The statistics for Scotland alone make a blatant read; Around 93,000 people currently live with dementia – and this number is expected to double in a generation. The impact on individuals and their families is devastating. It is a capacity impairing disease and in some cases can do it quickly.

There is a common misconception that when someone is no longer able to make their own decisions, those acts fall to a spouse, domestic partner, or children. Unfortunately this is not the case.

I am regularly contacted by troubled family members who have been advised to speak to an attorney as they are not empowered to make decisions on behalf of a loved one. Unfortunately, if you’ve lost capacity, it’s too late to hire a lawyer. Guardianship must be obtained, which is a lengthy, often expensive, legal process – and the appointed guardian may not be the person you want to look after.

However, if you are still able to make decisions, a Power of Attorney (POA) is possible. It is a legal document that enables a selected person to make decisions for you or to act on your behalf when you are no longer able or when you no longer want to make your own decisions. That person can be a family member, friend, or professional – ultimately, someone you trust.

There are two types of POA. An ongoing POA allows another person to take care of your financial affairs such as property, paying bills, and access to bank accounts, while a POA deals with decisions about your health and wellbeing. It is advisable to appoint both ongoing and welfare powers, and although they are completely separate, they can be grouped into one document.

It’s important to think carefully about the powers your attorney needs to fully manage your finances and well-being – and to make sure they’re included in the POA.

The document must be signed by a lawyer or doctor to certify that you are able to issue a POA and that you will not be pressured to sign.

The POA must be registered with the guardian’s office. Financial powers come into play after registration or at the time of incapacity for work. Welfare powers only come into effect when you are considered incapable. More than one lawyer can be appointed, which allows more than one person to participate in the decision-making process on your behalf.

There is a feeling that confronting the future is still a taboo subject. Nobody likes to think about or talk about a time when they or a loved one are no longer able to make decisions about their finances or well-being. But it’s an unfortunate reality.

Incapacity for work is an issue that I regularly discuss with individuals and families – not just with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia – and I keep stressing the importance of having a POA. You have the option to decide who makes decisions on your behalf – and saves additional stress, costs and even family disputes later.

This article first appeared in the press and journal

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