As we become older many of us, rightly, are worried about what will happen to us in old age or in infirmity. Life expectancy has increased, and sadly ailments of the mind including dementia, Alzheimers and stroke are more common as increasing numbers reach a very old age.
When someone loses his or her mental faculties it is necessary for someone, usually a relative to make care decisions for them, and also to look after their assets and finances. It is possible for each of us to decide in advance who will assume that role, by signing a document called an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA). This document will appoint one or more “attorneys”, usually children or other family members to look after our affairs if circumstances require.
An EPA can only be validly created while a person is of sound mind. Both a doctor and a solicitor must sign statements confirming the mental capacity of the person creating the Power (Donor).
The EPA only comes into force if the Donor loses his or her mental faculties. This is again certified by a doctor, and the EPA is then registered in the Office of Wards of Court. When the document is registered, the designated attorney takes over legal control of the donor’s affairs, and also makes personal care decisions for them in accordance with the directions made by the Donor as set out in the EPA.
If someone loses their mental faculties but he or she has not signed an EPA, it may be necessary to apply to have him or her made a “ward of court”. This is an application to the High Court to have someone appointed to manage their assets. This can be a costly, time consuming and cumbersome method of dealing with a stressful and sensitive family situation. These difficulties can be minimized or avoided by proper planning while you are still in good health.