Jo Wild, Associate Solicitor in the Hegartys Trust & Probate department, has joined a number of organisations representing older and vulnerable people to raise serious concerns around the Government's online tool for creating Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs).
An LPA is a powerful legal document that allows a person to appoint trusted individuals to make important decisions about care and finances on their behalf, in the event of a loss of mental capacity through an accident or illness such as dementia.
In May 2014, the Government’s Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) launched its online LPA tool, which it claims allows people to create the documents without the need for professional advice from a solicitor.
But a new report, published by a coalition of organisations led by Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), an independent organisation set up to offer legal advice for older and vulnerable people, warns that anyone creating an LPA without taking specialist legal advice faces a significantly higher risk of being left with an ineffective legal document and of becoming a victim of fraud or coercion.
The report also raises concerns around the potential of digital signatures, whereby physical signing of documents would no longer be required.
Jo Wild, a full accredited member of SFE said, ‘The prospect of being able to submit an LPA application entirely digitally is extremely concerning, and raises some serious questions around the potential for fraud and financial abuse.’
During a study conducted for the report, participants were invited to create LPAs using the OPG's online tool and other '’ methods. The study revealed that:
- Some of the forms did not accurately express the way in which participants would want their affairs and welfare to be handled in the future
- Documents made using DIY methods were more likely to contain elementary mistakes, rendering them ineffective and requiring additional application fees
- Following consultation with a solicitor, most participants made significant changes to the permissions of their documents regarding how and by whom their affairs were managed
June McSparron, a 75-year-old who participated in the study, said, ‘You are exposing yourself to a lot of risk by filling this form in on your own. There are so many bits that you can get wrong, and you can easily be pressured into making choices that you’re not entirely comfortable with.’
Planning for the future with LPAs
The number of LPAs being registered has increased steadily since the launch of the online tool, with over half a million registered in 2015/16 alone. With the OPG already receiving over 1,000 calls to its contact centre every day, the organisations behind the campaign say the Government body is potentially exposing people to unacceptable levels of risk and in doing so may be compromising its ability to safeguard those who are most vulnerable.
Greg Baker, Hegarty Partner and Head of the Trusts & Probate department said, ‘An LPA is by far the most powerful and important legal document an individual can have, because it allows you to pass potentially life-changing decisions about your affairs on to a third party.
‘It is absolutely right that people should be planning ahead for the future with LPAs, but granting someone authority over your affairs is an extremely important decision to make and a considerable responsibility for the Attorney appointed. This is a specialist area of the law, and we recommend that anyone considering an LPA goes to a legal expert to ensure they get the right advice, consider all the options, and safeguard themselves for the future.’
The SFE report has been backed by a coalition of organisations including Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), Action on Elder Abuse, Anchor, Contact the Elderly and the Society of Later Life Advisors (SOLLA).
Click here to download the report 'The Hidden Cost of DIY LPAs'.