What is a power of attorney and why you should get one now!

Dan Moore / 16 March 2015

Dan Moore explains the rules about granting someone power of attorney and why it is essential to put one in place early.

Power of attorney allows someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf should you be unable or unwilling to do so.

It’s often seen as something to take out when you are approaching your twilight years. In fact, it makes sense to get power of attorney sorted out as early as possible. Here’s why.

As we age, we become more susceptible to physical and mental ailments and conditions. At some point, a fair share of us may no longer want or be able to look after our finances or our welfare, and will need support. This is when someone with power of attorney could step in to ensure our needs are met.

Read our guide to using a power of attorney

It’s not an old person thing

Power of attorney may sound like something you should be considering in your dotage, but this is a false economy. You may intend to sort out power of attorney in the relatively near future, but end up concluding there is no rush because you are still fit and healthy.

Unfortunately, this is no protection against the unexpected. Freak accidents and tragedies can leave people physically or mentally incapacitated, at whatever age.

Putting age aside, power of attorney is definitely a good idea for anyone who works, lives or spends any significant time abroad. For example, if you or your gap-year kids are planning to travel the world, you or they should grant power of attorney to someone who can take over the running of particular financial affairs should either of you become incommunicado or incapacitated for a spell.

Consider the alternative

Of course, many people won’t take any steps towards protecting their finances, because as donors (those who an attorney would act for), they are wary about the prospect of giving another person the potential to control their finances; or as attorneys they feel awkward about broaching the subject with the donor. 

Addressing power of attorney is a little like writing a will – there is always something better to do. But in both cases, not having made the necessary provisions will only add to the stress and pain your loved ones may go through at a later stage.

If you become incapable of making rational decisions about your finances, but have not granted someone power of attorney, the choice of who looks after your finances will be taken out of your hands.

In this case, the Court of Protection will appoint a deputy to manage your finances. Someone you know could apply to be the deputy, although the final decision lies with the Court.

Who to choose as an attorney

If you’d prefer to have a say on who manages your finances, you should select an attorney or attorneys. If you select more than one, you must specify whether they are to make decisions independently ‘jointly and severally’ or together ‘jointly’.

Your attorney must be 18 or over, and can be your spouse or partner, a friend, relative or a professional, such as a solicitor. You must be confident that they will act in your best interests – after all they will be running the show.

On this point, it’s a good idea to choose a second attorney if your spouse is to be one and they are of the same age as you. This is because the strain of taking on your health and wellbeing or finances could prove too much should they need to invoke their power of attorney when you are both elderly.

Types of power of attorney

In practice, you will find yourself applying for one of the following types of power of attorney – ordinary or lasting (or continuing/welfare in Scotland and enduring in Northern Ireland).

Ordinary power of attorney is suitable for people with a physical illness or who have incurred an injury that they will recover from. It’s also a suitable option for people who live or travel abroad and would require someone to take care of their finances while they are away.

In both cases, this power of attorney is temporary, and you can set parameters on what the attorney can and cannot control (eg, they can ensure your bills are paid, but can’t sell your house).

What is lasting power of attorney?

Lasting or continuing powers of attorney are long-term or even permanent solutions. This option must be registered before it can be used, which can take months – an important reason to go through this process earlier rather than later. You can take one out to cover your health and well being and/or your financial affairs.

As with any power of attorney, as the donor you are free to cancel the power and grant it to another person or persons, providing you are of sound mind.   

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.