Many more of us need to take out a lasting power of attorney (LPA) or risk leaving ourselves vulnerable in old age.
A report last month from Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) in conjunction with think tank Centre for Future Studies (CFS) claimed the UK was “sleepwalking” towards a dementia crisis with millions failing to take steps to prepare for losing mental capacity.
It is an important reminder, if one were required, of the need to face the inevitable and do something about it
Yet so many do not want to confront their own mortality.
An LPA allows a person to choose one or more individuals, known as attorneys, to handle their affairs in the event that they are no longer able to do so themselves.
Attorneys are usually trusted family members or friends, but people can also select a legal professional.
An LPA must be put in place while a person has the mental capacity to do so.
There are two types of LPA: a health and welfare LPA (H&W LPA), and a property and financial affairs LPA (P&F LPA). The former covers things like choices around care plans, medical treatment and end of life wishes. The latter deals with the management of property, other assets, bank accounts and bill payments.
Dementia has overtaken heart disease as the nation’s leading cause of death.
The SFE report found that 12.8 million people over the age of 65 run the risk of developing dementia, yet there are only 928,000 LPAs currently registered. By 2025, including undiagnosed, there could be 1.3 million people with dementia, of some 13.2 million at risk, but only 2.2 million LPAs are expected to be in place. In addition, the number of strokes is likely to rise by almost half (44 per cent) in the next 20 years.
More than one third of people admit to not having made any provisions for later life such as writing a will or creating an LPA.
And many are confused about what can and cannot be done.
A staggering 63 per cent incorrectly believe that their spouse can make medical and care decisions on their behalf and 65 per cent think a next of kin has the power to do so, should they no longer be able. A next of kin means nothing when it comes to mental incapacity. It is only the case if a registered H&W LPA is in place.
The report states: “It’s clear that, as a nation, we are facing an incapacity crisis; one that we are unaware of and unprepared for.”
Lakshmi Turner, SFE chief executive, said: “As a nation we are living longer.
“In instances where we haven’t thought ahead, and that’s the case for most of us, we are leaving important and highly personal decisions in the hands of strangers – things like where we are cared for (which may not be near family and friends), whether we are resuscitated when we would not have wanted to be, whether our organs are donated, who cares for us.
“At a time of crisis, families have to make huge decisions about a loved one quickly, whilst under a massive amount of stress. I’ve seen for myself the distress caused. Planning ahead by talking to family or friends shouldn’t be seen as doom and gloom.”
It costs nothing to draw up a lasting power of attorney, unless you want a solicitor’s help – but in England and Wales you have to register it before you can use it. The registration fee is £82.
”If only” is one of those phrases we should all seek to avoid where possible.