Help is at hand for power of attorney obstacle course

New power of attorney guidelines will make the process easier for consumers.

Any one of us may have to request a power of attorney at some point in our lives, for any number of reasons. But one thing that should be consistent is the way in which financial institutions deal with the requests, so that the process is as simple as possible for the consumer.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, a power of attorney is when an individual gives another person control over their property and financial affairs or their health and welfare. This could be needed for a number of reasons; for example it could be due to a serious illness.

In the UK, almost three quarters of a million people established a lasting power of attorney in the 2015-16 tax year. And in the past five years, the number of people who have done so has increased by more than 180%.

Dementia driver

While there are numerous reasons behind this increase, one of the drivers has been the growing number of people being affected by a serious health issue such as dementia.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, someone develops dementia every three minutes, and the number of people who suffer from it is expected to be more than one million by 2025.

It is worth noting that there have been about 15,500 applications for a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), the kind of power of attorney mostly associated with dementia, in the last month.

An LPA can play a vital role in supporting the family to undertake advance planning for a time when the person they are caring for is unable to make certain decisions for themselves.

Of course. the experience of having a family member with dementia is likely to be an incredibly difficult and stressful one.

Financial institutions have a responsibility to support their customers in times such as these, which is why I was surprised to learn that there is currently no clear set of guidelines for financial administrators to follow when it comes to processing a request given by an attorney.

This lack of structure has resulted in individuals struggling with the process, at a time that must be extremely traumatic for them.

In such difficult circumstances, financial institutions have a responsibility to help their customers, but hearing those stories made it clear that we need to do much better.

This is supported by some previous research from Which?, the consumer group. It reported that one in five attorneys found banks were difficult to deal with when registering a power of attorney. The same research also highlighted that bank staff were giving inconsistent advice over the phone to attorneys registering their powers, or were limiting attorneys’ access to accounts.

Registering a power of attorney should be as stress-free as possible, and it’s clear that this is not the case at the moment.

For these reasons we made the decision to develop a new, clear set of guidelines for how to process a request from an attorney.

The provision of such guidelines should support financial services to be able to take a consistent approach, making it easier for people like you and me to go through the process.

Checklist

The guidelines set out a clear checklist of actions that need to be taken when administrators receive a power of attorney registration, and explains what else they need to be aware of:

• When someone might be eligible for a power of attorney and who is involved: the ‘donor’ and the ‘attorney’.

• What the six different types of power of attorney are: for instance ‘Ordinary power of attorney’, when someone loses mental capacity, and ‘Enduring power of attorney’, specifically for property and financial affairs.

• What restrictions there are: for instance, can it only be used once the donor has lost mental capacity?

• What the limitations are for attorneys once a power of attorney has been opened: for instance, whether or not an attorney can open an Isa, what gifts can be given on behalf of a donor and what changes can be made to existing financial arrangements.

I hope that this will mean customers find the system easier to deal with and far less stressful. I look forward to seeing financial services utilise this guide and make the difficult tasks as simple as possible for their customers.

Carol Knight is chief operations officer at Tisa.

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