LPAs best left to professionals?
Growing numbers of law firms are joining the various organisations, representing vulnerable and older people, in raising concerns over a governmental tool to creates LPAs online
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document of great significance, enabling a person to nominate trusted individuals to make decisions on their behalf, following a loss of mental capacity. These choices can be in relation to property and finances as well as health and welfare.
The Government’s Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) released the online tool in May 2014. It states that it enables individuals to make LPAs in absence of professional legal advice.
However, data published in a new report appears to doubt these claims. Put together by a number of organisations led by SFE, the report seems to indicate that anyone seeking to make an LPA who does not take legal advice from a specialist, is at greater risk of being left with a document that is ineffective, becoming a potential victim of fraud or coercion as well as incurring further application fees.
Proposal of an entirely digital system by the OPG, has also sparked concern in the report. This would mean the physical signing of the document would no longer be required.
Fully accredited member of the SFE Judith Bromley commented on the potential concerns stemming from the OPG tool. The Head of the Wills and Probate department at Russell and Russell went on to highlight the real importance of the document: “The prospect of being able to submit an LPA application entirely digitally is extremely concerning, and raises some serious questions around the potential for fraud and financial abuse.
“An LPA is by far the most powerful and important legal document an individual can have, because it allows you to pass potentially life-changing decisions about your affairs on to a third party.”
Following participants testing the OPG’s tool and other methods of making an LPA, a study was conducted. The results gathered indicated that:
- Some forms did not accurately represent the exact way in which individuals wished their affairs to be dealt with in the future
- Forms which were made using the DIY methods were more likely to be rendered ineffective or requiring additional application fees due to elementary mistakes
- Subsequent to a solicitor consultation, many individuals made significant changes to their documents’ permission, relation to how and by whom their affairs were managed.
Following the online tool’s release, the number of registered LPAs has gradually increased; in 2015/16 there were half a million registered. The OPG has set a target for their service to comprised 30% of all applications from April 2016 to March 2017 and is actively trying to encourage people to apply online for LPAs. The OPG admits, in its most recent report, that it’s willing to take on ‘risks’ in striking a balance between ‘empowering and safeguarding’.
Over 1,000 calls to the OPG contact centre are received each day, a figure which the organisations behind the report have their concerns about. They believe that the government body is potentially allowing people to be exposed to significant levels of risk and as a result may be hindering the ability to protect the most vulnerable.
Ms Bromley went on to state that: “It’s absolutely right that people should be planning ahead for the future with LPAs, but granting someone this sort of authority over your affairs is an extremely big responsibility for all parties involved. This is a specialist area of the law, and we recommend that anyone considering an LPA goes to a legal expert to ensure they get the right advice, consider all the options, and safeguard themselves for the future.”