So you have a Will in place, but could an LPA be more important?Posted on: 21 March 2016 by Lakshmi Turner
Only 7% of Britons have their affairs in order. So what happens if you are unable through illness to make decisions about your estate? Lakshmi Turner explains.
When planning for later life, we all want the best for ourselves and the people we love. Having a will in place ensures your wishes are followed after you are gone; it allows you to outline the management and distribution of your assets, and it gives you piece of mind knowing you can support your loved ones when you are no longer around. But what about ensuring your wishes are followed while you’re alive, if you become unable to make your own decisions anymore, through illness or an accident?
More than two million people in the UK are unable to make their own decisions, perhaps because of dementia, a stroke, brain injury, learning disability, or mental illness, but we recently found out that just 7% of Brits have their affairs in order.
Most of us assume that if this happens to us, we can rely on our next of kin to ensure our wishes are carried out – to safeguard our finances, our health, and our care. But it’s a mistake to assume that you can make decisions on behalf of a loved one, or that they can do so for you, without the appropriate legal documents in place.
Lasting power of attorney
A lasting power of attorney (LPA) is a powerful legal document, which allows you to appoint a loved one or trusted individual as an attorney, to handle your affairs in the event you become unable to do so. In England and Wales there are two types of LPA, which cover your property and financial affairs, and health and welfare respectively. With both in place, your legally appointed attorney(s) will be able to use these documents to make important decisions on your behalf, such as the management of your property, bank accounts, bill payments, and choices around your care plans, medical treatment, and end of life wishes.
Without an LPA in place, many families find major decisions about their loved ones are left to the court, medical professionals, or even a social worker. In these circumstances, families have little or no influence, even if they believe it’s not what the individual would want.
A worrying picture
Nevertheless, national research from SFE shows that only 7% of us have some form of LPA in place, whilst 39% have a will. The figures paint a worrying picture about our preparation for later life; as a nation we’re better at planning for death than life.
Whilst it is vitally important to make arrangements for your affairs after you are gone, a will cannot dictate what happens to your estate if you become unable to make decisions for yourself while you’re alive, through an accident, or illness. In these circumstances, it can be left to third party individuals, such as social workers or doctors, rather than those you trust the most, to make important decisions on your behalf.
An LPA can act as a safety net in these situations, ensuring your wishes around important later life decisions are respected, giving you and your family peace of mind.
Planning for all eventualities
An LPA is by far the most powerful and important legal document an individual can have, and it is for this reason I’d encourage anybody considering his or her later life plans to seek expert advice.
Like wills, there is a plethora of material available for people looking to create their own LPA: online resources, non-legal advisers, or off-the-shelf kits to name a few. However, without professional legal advice, you risk making mistakes in your documentation, potentially making them legally invalid.
By using a specialist lawyer, you can ensure your LPA will give you the best chance of ensuring your later-life decisions are respected. Their knowledge and expert advice can save you money by getting it right first time and they will ensure your affairs will be handled the way you want.
SFE (Solicitors for the Elderly) is the national organisation representing legal professionals specialising in helping people plan for later life. The extensive experience and qualifications required of SFE-accredited lawyers make them the gold standard for solicitors and chartered legal executives advising on older client law.
Without getting specialist advice, many of us could be unknowingly leaving important decisions about our lives in the hands of complete strangers.
More information on how to find an SFE accredited lawyer can be found at www.sfe.legal.
Last edited March 2016
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