Money Helpdesk: Should I get power of attorney over parents?

I AM worried about my elderly parents, both in their late seventies. My father is becoming increasingly forgetful and seems to be falling behind with financial matters, and I've been noticing more unopened mail when I pop in for my weekly visit.

My mum has never got involved in the financial side of things, and is probably not capable of taking this over.

I cannot bear the thought of them running into financial trouble and getting upset over it all.

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My husband thinks I may be able to speak to them about power of attorney, which would enable me to help them if this situation gets worse. They are not particularly well off, and this is not a move on my part to gain financially from the situation. I genuinely want to help somehow.

FW, Edinburgh

James Brogan, Private Client Solicitor at Russel &Aitken, writes:

This is a difficult situation, but one which requires urgent attention. Your husband is right to bring up the subject of power of attorney, as this may well enable you to help your parents if they become unable to make their own everyday financial decisions.

A power of attorney is a written document prepared by a solicitor on your behalf whilst you still have legal capacity, which allows you to make provisions for how your finances and welfare will be attended to should you no longer be able to carry out the tasks or make your own decisions.

But you shouldn't leave it any longer as their solicitor must be satisfied they both understand the nature of the document and its effects. If the condition of one of your parents was to deteriorate, they may be unable to grant a power of attorney due to a loss of legal capacity.

Anyone in Scotland over the age of 16 can grant power of attorney, provided that they're mentally competent at the time.

A spouse, children or partner have no legal authority to act on your behalf unless they are appointed by in a written power of attorney or appointed by the court. Should you be unable to make decisions for yourself and you have not appointed an attorney, then key decisions about your welfare, such as where you live, will be decided by a third party such as a doctor or social worker rather than your immediate family.

The only recourse available in this instance would be for a relative to make an application to the court to be appointed by the sheriff as your guardian to attend to your affairs. This process can take up to a year to complete and costs can run into the thousands.

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Many people think that they don't have enough money to justify having a power of attorney prepared. But it could potentially cost thousands of pounds for someone to be appointed by the court. Sorting it out now could therefore save you a lot of money, as well as avoiding any unnecessary stress and worry for your family.In most cases, a power of attorney will cost from around 300 (plus VAT), compared with thousands of pounds for a guardianship. There is also a registration fee for registering the power of attorney with the Office of Public Guardian (currently 70).

Where a couple or relatives who are living with each other are each making a power of attorney, solicitors are likely to charge a reduced combined fee.

Many are happy to have an initial "no obligation" meeting, which means you can discuss your particular circumstances and your wishes with the solicitor, who would then agree a fee with you should you wish to proceed.

E-mail you questions to our panel of experts at [email protected]

Readers should seek independent financial advice before taking action. Replies to readers' queries are offered on the basis that no legal liability is created thereby.