vulnerable people put at risk by digital lasting powers of attorney

A SYSTEM put in place to protect the vulnerable and their assets could have the opposite effect if people decide to go down the DIY route, a leading North-East solicitor has warned.

A Lasting Power of Attorney allows someone to appoint a person to make decisions on their behalf, should they suffer an accident or illness.

First introduced in 2007, the aim was to protect those who needed help in everything from managing their money to health and medical decisions.

But now a proposal to allow people to apply online for an LPA and not use a solicitor, could mean that those needing support are wide open to being exploited.

Wendy Mustard, head of Wills, Trusts, Probate and Court of Protection at Sunderland’s Richard Reed Solicitors, believes this is a dangerous move – and has already had to deal with a difficult case as a result of people deciding to handle the matter themselves.

“There is a very real risk of people being taken advantage of, particularly the elderly or the vulnerable who may not have much experience in using the internet,” she said.

“When LPAs were introduced, there were a lot of protections for vulnerable people.  I think many of these have been whittled away and anyone wanting to put an LPA in place should really do so via a solicitor, which will ensure that they are properly protected.”

The new service is being proposed to create a “digital fast track” for families wanting to quickly put an LPA in place, but Wendy believes this could easily be exploited.

She cites the case of a client who discovered by chance his estranged step-daughter had created an LPA online for his wife, allowing her to make all the decisions regarding her mother’s care and finances.

“His wife had questionable capacity when the LPA was created and my client believes that she didn’t understand what she was signing,” she said.

The step-daughter now has control of all of the wife’s finances and is not involving him at all in making health and care decisions.

“This just highlights the problems getting an LPA online can cause and the issues that can arise if people decide to do it themselves rather than use a solicitor,” said Wendy.

“It’s a situation we are very keen to highlight because of the implications for elderly or vulnerable people or for anyone who doesn’t have the mental capacity to make their own decisions.

“It’s absolutely paramount they are protected and understand the process, rather than potentially being pushed into something without fully understanding what it means for them.

We work very hard to make sure any suspected coercion or duress is dealt with when we meet with our clients.

“It is a very real worry that people will be pushed into creating an LPA by unscrupulous family members who see the online system as an easy way to get themselves appointed as attorney, sometimes without the knowledge of the person they are making the LPA for.”

For further information visit www.richardreed.co.uk

 

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