Obtaining a Power of Attorney for Your Elderly Parent

May 12, 2016 4 min

Obtaining a power of attorney for your elderly parent; what it is, why you need it, the different options, and how get it in place.

Obtaining a power of attorney for your elderly parent

Talking to a parent about a power of attorney can be difficult, but it’s a good idea to set things up when they’re able to understand and make choices. With this done you will be able to better support and help them in the future.

None of us want to think about a time when we will be unable to make rational decisions for ourselves.

Talking to a parent about a power of attorney can be uncomfortable and upsetting but it’s something that should be considered sooner rather than later.

By setting things up when your parent can understand and make their own choices it will be easier to help and support them in the future.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document that can allow your parent to appoint one or more trusted people to help them make decisions or to make decisions on their behalf. For example: whether to approve complicated surgery in the case of an emergency, when your parent is unable to make the decision for themselves.

Why is a power of attorney important?

Without a power of attorney it can be difficult to deal with finances and authorize medical treatment if your parent is physically or mentally incapable of doing so themselves.

Paying bills and accessing bank accounts can involve a long, complicated process through the Court of Protection. Say your loved one has a funeral fund; that fund could be locked away by legal processes, but the funeral will still need to go ahead. In the meantime you will be footing the bill out of your own pocket, at a time when added stress is the last thing you need.

What if your parent’s mental capacity declines to a point where they’re unable to care for themselves and unable to approve important decisions like the sale of their home. You could be in the situation where care needs to be provided, with no way of paying for it, and little support available because their assets amount to more than the maximum limit for local authority funding.

So it’s very important to get these legal contingencies in place ahead of time. In some instances, in may be necessary to arrange an independent mental capacity assessment particularly if there are contentious or unusual circumstances in the will.

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What if my parent is scared of losing control?

A power of attorney can be seen as a back-up plan, as your parent might never need to relinquish control.

They can choose when it can be used and what for; for example, they might only want you to deal with bills and not have the power to sell their house, or they could stipulate that you can deal with their affairs only when they lose mental capacity.

What is mental capacity?

Mental capacity is the ability to make choices and decisions.

When an individual’s mental health or brain function is disturbed, their ability to understand, retain and weigh-up information can be affected, as well as their capability to communicate their choice, can cause them to lose mental capacity.

What type of power of attorney do I need?

A lasting power of attorney is usually the appropriate choice for an ageing parent.

They can be put in place and registered at any time, as long as the individual is capable of making their own decisions when the document is signed.

Your parent can give control to 1 or more people acting together but it’s essential that they choose people they can absolutely trust to act in their best interests. Children are a common choice, but if there’s any friction between them it can be better to choose people from the extended family who would be able to act as impartial 3rd parties.

Lasting Power of Attorney

There are two types :

  • Property and Financial Affairs: this covers the practical management of finances, debts, benefits and buying or selling property.
  • Health and Welfare: this covers medical treatment, care and housing issues.

Ordinary Power of Attorney

If an individual wants someone to look after their financial affairs for a certain period of time, they can give them Ordinary Power of Attorney.

It can be useful for individuals with a physical illness, an accident that caused physical injury, or if they’re abroad for a long period of time. It is not suitable and cannot be used if someone may lose mental capacity through a degenerative illness like dementia.

How to set up a lasting Power of Attorney

You can set up a power of attorney through your family solicitor or a will writer, however the system has been made much more straightforward and it can be done relatively cheaply and simply without legal help.

Your parent needs to sign the Lasting Power of Attorney forms, these can be ordered from the Office of the Public Guardian or completed online.

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Filling the form in online is helpful because any errors are highlighted as you go along, so there’s less chance of the form winging its way back to you.

There’s plenty of guidance with the forms. Often your parent will be asked to provide supporting evidence from a friend, doctor or other health professionals to confirm that they are still mentally capable of making decisions.

The completed form should be signed, witnessed and returned to the Office of the Public Guardian together with the fee of £110. If your parent is on a low income, or gets certain benefits, they might be entitled to a discount or fee waiver.

Remember, it can take up to eight weeks for the power of authority to be processed and registered so it’s a good idea to get organised early.

The idea of someone else controlling our decisions can be frightening. But in many ways a power of attorney is sensible for everyone, not just the elderly or those in the early stages of dementia.

No one knows if they’re going to be suddenly incapacitated due to an accident, mental illness or a stroke, for example.

A power of attorney can make life a little easier for relatives who are having to deal with practical matters and liaise with medical staff as well as dealing with the stress and worry of their loved one’s illness.

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Dr Jane Gilbert

Jane has over 20 years’ experience as a health writer and TV presenter. Jane writes on a wide variety of clinical and care topics – from explaining the latest studies and research to unpacking conditions and discussing treatment options. Jane holds a MBBS degree from Imperial College, London and spent seven years working in the NHS.

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