Preparing for the future is a case of preparing for many different possibilities. Some of those possibilities are the ones we wish for, while others are the ones we try not to think about; some are far more likely to come to fruition than others; some are guaranteed.
Ultimately, a good plan is comprehensive and diverse and won’t ever be needed in its entirety, and that means refusing to put anything ‘out of your mind’ until it has been addressed, and its potential impact minimised.
This is easier said than done, and it’s why so many people still need to set aside the time to work on their wills and inheritance tax planning. Beyond that, however, all of us need to plan for a day when we are no longer able to speak for ourselves – in both a financial and a personal sense.
Appointing power of attorney means knowing – and, more importantly, choosing – who will speak on your behalf if the situation ever calls for it, and it’s a vital part of securing the future. We cannot expect the unexpected, but we can anticipate its impact on life-as-usual and prevent that impact from being any more disruptive or difficult.
What is Power of Attorney?
Power of attorney is a legal document – one that will remain valid right up until your death. Depending on the type of power of attorney you choose, your attorney (or, if you decide, your attorneys) will be able to make decisions about your property and finances, your health and wellbeing, or both. For obvious reasons, most people get power of attorney for both.
Your attorney will be called upon to make these decisions if a time comes when you are left without the ‘mental capacity’ to make them for yourself. This could be something that you have plenty of time to prepare for – for instance, if you are suffering from a degenerative illness – or it could be the result of a serious and unexpected injury. In either case, it is far better to make your plans sooner rather than later – if for no other reason than to avoid the worry that accompanies a big unknown.
Having a trusted power of attorney in place means that your health and finances can be dealt with in a way you would want. From a financial perspective, it means a smoother transition for your investments and other interests or affairs you may have interest in – a far better alternative to creating a pile of loose ends, and leaving your dependents in the dark.
From a health perspective, it means entrusting important decisions – for instance, over experimental treatment, risky surgery, and end of life care – to someone who knows you, rather than someone with whom you never talked things through.
Still, while it needn’t represent a big disruption, this isn’t a process you want to rush through. Ideally, you will take the time to talk the specifics through with us, and your chosen attorney, in order to ensure you both fully understand what it could entail. It’s one of the many tricky financial issues you need to discuss with your loved ones
What Decisions Can an Attorney Make?
When it comes to finances, an attorney will be able to manage any accounts you have at the bank and building society, sell certain assets (including your home), and see to the more commonplace tasks like paying bills that have been delivered to your home in your absence.
Still, there may be certain restrictions on what an attorney can and cannot decide. This will boil down to the instructions you make within the power of attorney – the legal document itself.
Medically, they will have a say over your treatment, location (for instance, whether you are moved to a long-term care facility, or brought back home for palliative care), and whether or not you continue to receive life-sustaining treatment and extraordinary measures.
When you choose an attorney, it is very important that you sit down and have a frank conversation about your wishes, and any details they ought to know about your finances. Repeat this conversation whenever things change significantly, just so that you are both prepared for the future.
Who Can be Appointed Power of Attorney?
There are very few restrictions on who can be appointed power of attorney. The only significant restrictions are that the attorney must be:
- Over the age of 18
- Capable of making decisions on someone else’s behalf (a question of mental capacity)
Power of attorney can be appointed to non-UK residents and non-British nationals.
Many people will choose for their spouse, partner, sibling, adult child or close friend to name as their attorney, while others will choose to appoint a professional.
Remember that you can appoint more than one power of attorney – although, for obvious reasons, this can complicate things. You can specify some decisions that they can make separately, and some decisions that they will have to agree upon before a final decision is made. Making those stipulations is a good idea, but many people simply prefer the ease of appointing one attorney overall.
How Long Does Power of Attorney Last?
Power of attorney lasts from the moment that your attorney is registered until your death, or a change in circumstance. The process of registering an attorney with the Office of the Public Guardian can take a little while – a few weeks, at least – so it is important to remember that power is not granted from the moment the paperwork has been completed.
In this initial paperwork, you can appoint a ‘replacement’ attorney – someone who can fill the shoes of your original attorney if they pass away or are incapable of taking on the role of your attorney.
At Fingerprint Financial Planning, we pride ourselves on our comprehensive approach to protecting your financial interests. We can offer plenty of input and advice when it comes to securing power of attorney, and ensuring that your financial plan is geared-up to accommodate a potential changing of hands if you are ever in a position where you need to lean on your chosen attorney, and entrust your financial decisions to them.
Working out how you and your family will handle the what ifs is a difficult process, but we can help. Contact us today to arrange your initial consultation.