Planning for incapacity should be like making a will, says lawyer

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Older people and their families should arrange a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for managing their affairs if they become incapacitated, as routinely as making a will, a private client lawyer advised this week.

An anticipated rise in the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia means that older people should arrange an LPA with a specialist lawyer even if it is never needed, said Hudda Morgan, a private client lawyer with Harrowells Solicitors in York.

Planning ahead and arranging an LPA in the event of the onset of a restrictive condition is far easier, less stressful and more cost-effective than waiting until a person has become incapacitated, Ms Morgan said at an Alzheimer’s Society event in York, sponsored by Harrowells Solicitors as part of Dementia Awareness Week 2014.

According to figures released by the Alzheimer’s Society this week, more than 11,000 people in York and North Yorkshire have dementia and this is expected to rise to 16,000 in the next decade.

Ms Morgan, a partner at Harrowells specialising in services to the elderly, said that a significant volume of private-client legal work is being driven by society’s growing awareness of incapacity created through living with dementia and Alzheimer’s and a desire to plan care and protect family finances, especially after the recent recession.

“Even when someone has already been diagnosed with such a condition, there can sometimes be a reluctance to come and see a specialist solicitor to make an LPA, because people can feel that they are losing control,” she said.

“In fact, they are taking control by being proactive and doing so could be crucial for their future and managing their family assets.

“People should arrange an LPA as routinely as making a will. This is far better than waiting until someone’s health deteriorates and it is necessary to apply to the Court of Protection to appoint someone, which is more stressful because of the circumstances, more time-consuming because of the complexities and significantly more expensive because of the Court of Protection costs.

“Also, once Alzheimer’s or dementia starts to restrict a person’s awareness, and a family has applied to the Court of Protection, it is harder for the person living with the condition to choose who will gain control of their affairs and, where there is any doubt as to their intentions, it is easier for them to be contested, which again adds to the delays, stress and costs.”

An additional complication where the Court of Protection has appointed someone to manage an individual’s finances, is that the court requires annual accounts to be filed and audited, so they can check that the individual’s affairs are being managed in their best interests.

Ms Morgan added: “People living with conditions associated with old age can often lose interest in their financial affairs, so money ceases to be invested properly, ISAs are not kept up to date and so on while, where an LPA has been arranged early as a precaution, the person granted control can ensure that finances are managed properly, which can be crucial in meeting the costs of specialist care.”

Up to 800,000 UK people have a form of dementia and more than half have Alzheimer’s.

In fewer than 10 years a million people will have dementia and this will soar to 1.7m by 2051.

Harrowells Solicitors, which offers a wide range of private and commercial legal services, including specialist legal advice relating to health and welfare for olde r people and their families, has three offices in York and others in Thirsk, Easingwold and Pocklington.

Alzheimer’s Society is a membership organisation which works to improve the quality of life of people affected by dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by a series of strokes or diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse.