According to Alzheimer’s research UK, 850,000 people in the UK suffer with some form of dementia. To help raise awareness of the issues faced by dementia suffers and their families, Stewart Donald, private client lawyer with Forrester Sylvester Mackett Solicitors LLP provides an overview of the practical legal steps you can take to help protect yourself and your loved ones.
‘Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and affects millions of people around the world. Receiving a diagnosis can be devastating and immediate thoughts will inevitably turn to treatment and healthcare support. However, it is also important to think about the legal and financial implications of a disease that will erode your ability to make decisions for yourself. Dealing with these issues at an early stage, while you still have the mental capacity to do so, is crucial and can go a long way to giving you much needed peace of mind,’ says Stewart.
To ensure that, if you become unable to make decisions for yourself, decisions made by others on your behalf accord (as far as possible) with your wishes, you should consider making a lasting power of attorney, an advance decision and statement, a will and a letter of wishes. You need to do this at the earliest opportunity and before your illness renders you incapable of making fully-informed decisions for yourself.
Power of attorney
A power of attorney lets you appoint people you know and trust to make decisions on your behalf and enables you to give guidance to those people on how decisions affecting you should be made. There are two types of power of attorney:
- a health and welfare power, which covers decisions about your health and personal wellbeing, including how you should be cared for, the sorts of medical treatment that should be administered and where you should live; and
- a property and financial affairs power, which covers decisions about your finances and assets, such as the running of your bank accounts, claiming any benefits you may be entitled to and deciding whether any property you own ought to be sold.
Although it is possible to make one power of attorney covering, for example, just your health and welfare or just your property and finances, Stewart Donald advises making both to ensure all decisions that may need to be made on your behalf are covered.
There are safeguards in place to ensure that someone you choose to appoint as your attorney does not abuse their position and you can always elect to appoint a professional advisor, such as your solicitor or accountant, to oversee things and ensure your affairs are properly managed.
If you are a family member who is worried that their relative has already lost mental capacity and is therefore not able to make a power of attorney, do not despair. It is still possible for you to help make decisions for them by applying to the Court of Protection to become what is known as a deputy. If you require advice on this, please contact us.
Advance decisions and statements on health and care issues
An advance decision enables you to decide for yourself whether you want to receive certain sorts of treatment, including treatment that might be needed to keep you alive. Advance decisions, once made, are legally binding and must be respected.
Advance statements enable you to explain how you would like to be cared for on a day-to-day basis and the factors those making decisions for you should bear in mind to take account of your views on certain matters, such as where you would prefer to live, who you would prefer to care for you and the importance you attach to being well-groomed and well presented. Although not legally binding, anyone making decisions on your behalf must have regard to any wishes you have expressed in an advance statement.
Wills and letters of wishes
Making a will enables you to decide how your money and property should be dealt with when you die. It also provides an opportunity for you and your solicitor to consider your needs while you are still alive and to explore the options for funding those needs while still enabling you to pass on an inheritance to your loved ones. Investigations can be made to determine whether you would qualify for help with the cost of any care you may need and to help you demonstrate that you meet the qualifying criteria.
If the value of your assets is likely to exceed the level at which inheritance tax becomes payable then advice can also be given on the steps you can lawfully take to reduce your potential liability and therefore the amount of tax that must be paid.
Where any provision of your will may be controversial or come as a surprise to your relatives, and therefore lead them to question whether you knew what you were doing at the time your will was made, a letter of wishes can be used to rationalize your decision and explain why you have chosen to act as you have. This can help reduce the potential for conflict between family members after your death.
Planning ahead is the key to making life for you and your loved ones as easy as possible following the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia.
For a confidential discussion about any of the issues raised in this article, and for help making a will or a lasting power of attorney and an advance decision or statement, please contact Stewart Donald on 01666 822671 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Stewart can also help if you need advice on accessing funding for care costs from the NHS or your local authority, or if you are concerned that a relative with dementia is being held against their will or mistreated in a hospital or care home.