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18th May 2015

Who will look after you?.

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With Mental Health Awareness Week last week (11th to 17th May) and Dementia Awareness Week starting this week (17th to 23rd May), Bernadette O’Reilly, a partner at Hewitsons, explains why it’s sensible to put plans in place now should the worst happen in the future.

Mental health issues are now firmly on the national radar, with around a quarter of the UK population being directly affected by mental health issues in any one year.

As solicitors we are well aware of the practical and legal problems that can result if a person loses the capacity to manage their own affairs on a permanent or even temporary basis. This problem is made worse by the fact that the law does not automatically state that a person’s spouse or next of kin can deal with their affairs if they have lost capacity.

We therefore professionally recommend that people consider who would take decisions on their behalf in relation to their property and financial affairs, and indeed their health and welfare, if they cannot make those decisions themselves. Key questions that need to be considered include: who would sort out paying my bills? What will happen to my business? Who would be right to discuss care issues with my doctor?

Fortunately, Lasting Powers of Attorney allow people to appoint others to act on their behalf if they are unable to make these important decisions. People should also review their business arrangements and put measures in place to allow things to run smoothly in their absence.

If you do not appoint attorneys and lose mental capacity, applications have to be made to court for someone to be appointed to manage your affairs or authorise specific decisions, if necessary. These court processes can be lengthy and expensive. This is exactly why we would strongly recommend that people of all ages carefully consider if they should put Lasting Powers of Attorney in place.

The need to look into financial planning and Wills is especially important if a person knows that they have a condition that may lead to a decline in their mental capacity. Even with such a condition, someone can make or change their Will if they have "testamentary capacity", which is the capacity in law to make a Will. We would recommend taking legal advice at an early stage to consider all the options.

The expert team of solicitors at Hewitsons can provide legal advice to help you prepare for the worst. One of our experts, Associate Kelly Wardell, who is also a member of the national organisation Solicitors for the Elderly, says: “It isn’t just the elderly who should consider their affairs and Lasting Powers of Attorney. I had a very difficult case involving a man in his 30s who had suffered a road traffic accident. I was asked to visit him in the hospital intensive care unit as his family wanted to manage his business and pay urgent bills. Sadly he did not have the mental capacity to sign any legal documents. Had there been a registered Lasting Power of Attorney in place prior to the accident, the attorneys could have dealt with his affairs immediately. Our advice is that the sooner you put in place Lasting Powers of Attorney the better, as sadly we do not know what life might throw at us.”

See our Wills and LPA services page for more information or click here to email Bernadette.