The thought of reaching a time in your life when you are no longer able to make your own decisions may be one you’d rather ignore.
But if you fail to plan ahead, you could make things even worse for loved ones, should anything happen to you.
The best way to be prepared for all eventualities is by drawing up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).
This legal document allows you to appoint someone to act in matters of both finance and personal welfare on your behalf.
That way, if you should become physically or mentally incapacitated, it will fall to someone you know and trust to look after your affairs.
Don’t delay on thinking about an LPA
Many people think that an LPA is something they will only need in later life, or should they find themselves faced with declining health.
But the unfortunate reality is that there’s no way of knowing what might happen to you.
With this in mind, it is far better to be prepared, just in case the unthinkable happens, such as a car crash.
By acting sooner rather than later, and getting this document drawn up in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s, will give you the peace of mind of knowing that no matter how life plays out, your bills will be paid, and matters will be dealt with.
It will also protect your loved ones from unnecessary emotional distress.
Take action early
Encouraging new findings from law firm Gillespie Macandrew, based on figures from the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), show there has been a substantial increase in the number of LPAs registered by those below retirement age.
In 2015, there was a near 35% rise in the number of under-65s registering an LPA compared with 2014, with dramatic rises in the number of over-50s and over-40s putting one of these documents in place.
In the 40-50 age bracket, the increase over the previous year was 31%, while for those in the 50-65 age range, the jump in 2015 over 2014 was 41%.
Over the same two year period there was a 19% rise in LPAs registered by the over 65s.
What happens if you don’t have an LPA?
If something happens to you and you don’t have an LPA in place, things can get very difficult for family and loved ones.
This is because someone must apply to the Court of Protection to become a deputy before they can deal with matters on your behalf.
This can be a long and expensive process, and can mean a complete stranger ends up being the one making decisions regarding your future health and wealth. There is then a risk they will make choices you would not have made.
Being prepared can save a lot of stress and heartache.
What happens when it's too late to apply for lasting power of attorney?
How to draw up an LPA
The cheapest way to set up an LPA is by filling out the forms at gov.uk/power-of-attorney.
It will cost you £110 to register an LPA with the OPG.
Once the forms are filled out, you need to print them, sign them personally, and ask your chosen attorney to sign them too.
If you want help setting up and registering an LPA, you can contact a local advice agency or solicitor.
While some solicitors may charge by the hour, some services offered by financial organisations are fixed-fee.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that can only set up an LPA while you still mentally fit – and while you are still able to sign the paperwork.
This is an important consideration given that one person is diagnosed with dementia every three minutes, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. The charity also warns that the figure of total sufferers is expected to reach a million by 2025.
Types of LPA
There are two different types of LPA: the first is for property and financial affairs, and the second is for health and welfare.
By granting someone Power of Attorney over your finances, this means they will be able to operate bank accounts and claim benefits on your behalf. They will also be entitled to carry out property transactions for you, such as selling your home.
By granting someone as Power of Attorney over your health and welfare, they will, for example, be able to made decisions about your daily routine, medical care, choice of care home – and even whether you should be resuscitated if your heart stops.
Who to choose
Most people choose trusted family members or close friends to be an LPA.
It is up to you to decide whether to have different people for the different types of LPA, or the same person for both.
The key is to choose a person – or people – you know will act in your best interests.
Have the conversation
Talking to family and friends about matters such as getting dementia, or losing physical capacity, can be tough at the best of times.
However, by having these difficult conversations now, you can save a lot of heartache – not to mention money – further down the line.
And, once you’ve put your own LPA in place, it is well worth supporting other family members to help them get their affairs sorted too.
Christmas conversations: how to make the most of your family time this Christmas