The importance of putting your affairs in order: Heledd Wyn Associate Director and Head of Elderly Care at Gregg Latchams Solicitor
The death or illness of a parent or loved one can often cause all sorts of problems if matters are not discussed beforehand and action hasn’t been taken with regards to managing the responsibility of their affairs. From a legal perspective it can be an overwhelming situation you find yourself in and even tougher to deal with at a particularly sad time.
So why do we all wait until we’re old to sort out a Power of Attorney and a Will? With better planning you can prevent a financial nightmare happening further down the line by having those sensible conversations today. Wills and Power of Attorney go hand in hand so by sorting both of these matters years in advance this will serve you well, allowing you to time to cope with a caring role or grieve instead of being buried in a mound of paperwork.
A case study has come to light in the media regarding a husband and wife not putting their affairs in order before it was too late and I thought this was a good example to share. For this particular couple, their story is a similar one I hear all the time, leaving the burden on their son and daughter to fight through the minefield of legal bureaucracy.
The couple in question were childhood sweethearts from the age of 19, they lived a happy life with their son and daughter. Sadly seven months after the mother was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 69 the father died following a sudden heart attack aged just 66 years old. No Will was in place so all of the father’s estate was automatically passed to his wife who at this stage was unable to communicate and whose health meant that she was unable to make important decisions. As no Power of Attorney was registered, the son and daughter were unable to act upon their mother’s behalf. This is where the problems started causing no end of problems for them to sort out what can only be described as a financial mess.
The bank allowed the daughter to draw money out for funeral expenses but beyond this all bank accounts were off limits causing both children added stress as they tried to pay for costs for repairing the boiler, sorting out reimbursement of pensions and equity release mortgage costs. At this stage they both realised they were foolish not to have insisted on a Power of Attorney even though their father dismissed it each time the subject was brought up saying ‘we’re ok’ and he ‘wasn’t going anywhere soon’.
It was time for the son and daughter to take legal advice and a solicitor was brought on board to help advise and guide them through this difficult process. The first step advised was to apply for a Court of Protection order, which the daughter promptly did.
Once granted you’re known as a deputy and can act upon your loved one’s behalf. But it’s still not as easy as a Power of Attorney as there are restrictions in place given you have not been appointed to make these decisions. A Court of Protection order involves someone applying to take charge of your finances without your permission and all actions are overseen by the Office of the Public Guardian is responsible for their affairs, not you. The Court of Protection order sets out what the deputy has permission to make decisions about and then as a deputy, you are obliged to carry out these duties and report back regularly.
The process is lengthy, in this case it took seven months to be granted a Court of Protection order with a lot of nitty gritty paperwork involved in between, often declaring your own finances including any debt occurred. Plus the most upsetting part is the Office of the Public Guardian are obliged to interview your loved one without you being by their side for reassurance. This can be upsetting and unsettling if they are suffering with dementia or a long-term illness, especially in this case as they needed to confirm the mother had lost her mental capacity.
And it doesn’t stop here. Without knowing the information required about the mother’s income the daughter then had to apply to become an appointee person with the Department for Work and Pensions. The daughter was interviewed to clarify she was trustworthy, an interrogation process I’m sure she could have done without.
Finally the Court of Protection order was granted but this brought further questions about what to do with their mother’s assets such as renting or selling the family home. Not a decision either son or daughter wanted to make, especially as their father’s clothes were still hanging in the wardrobe and it was a promised place to stay whenever they needed it. Under the constant pressure of care home fees, they had no choice but to sell it. Although the house sale would fund their mother’s care bills, both children incurred hundreds in legal fees and additional one-off costs throughout the process such as insurance, assessment fees and application fees running into thousands of pounds
They were also required to complete an annual report accounting for all the money paid in and taken out of their mother’s bank account, right down to the last penny. It took hours to complete and after filing the first report they received a call querying why the daughter claimed the cost of a disabled access taxi to take her to a family party.
Most people will understand it is the Office of the Public Guardian’s job to look out for those who cannot manage their own affairs. But these sorts of questions feel like an intrusion and are often not handled as sensitively as loved ones would hope for. In this case the daughter felt like she was running a small business, not looking after her mother’s affairs.
So, what can we all learn from this example? Hopefully that it’s never too early to get your affairs in order, no matter what age or stage in your life. I’m sure the mother in this situation wishes she just signed a Power of Attorney to make life easier for all concerned, but it’s too late sadly and with a lot of hard work the situation was resolved after months of unnecessary research, phone calls, meetings and interviews. One signature could have dealt with everything.
At Gregg Latchams we have a team of healthcare experts who can sit down with you and explain what is best for you and your loved ones before you find yourself in this situation. Please get in touch to make an appointment and get the ball rolling to start planning for your loved-ones future at www.gl.law.