It’s easy to accept a challenge when it seems a long way off. The recent Edinburgh Marathon, coinciding closely with Dementia Awareness Week, inspired one of my friends to get involved, and he has signed up for next year’s race. He is planning to raise funds for Alzheimer Scotland. I admire his commitment, and I am certain he will do very well, but I fear he underestimates how demanding the 26.2-mile run next May will be.
The consequences of dementia are profound, for those with the condition and for their families and friends. According to Alzheimer Scotland there are at least 90,000 people suffering dementia in Scotland and around 3,200 of them are under the age of 65. The possibility that anyone can be affected by this disease is one of the primary reasons why so many of us choose to put in place Powers of Attorney. It gives us the assurance that if we are unable to make decisions for ourselves, then those whom we trust most may do so on our behalf.
Choosing the right Attorney is paramount; after all, they may be responsible for looking after every aspect of our life, including managing our money, deciding where we shall live, and even the clothes that we will wear. They must be capable of making informed, balanced decisions in often difficult circumstances. But crucially, they must also have sufficient insight into our character, and our personal preferences, to make the right decisions for us as individuals.
For many of us, the decision is simple; we appoint our spouse, our child, our closest friend. For others, it is more difficult. Sometimes there is no family, and there are no friends, or perhaps there are reasons why it would be inappropriate to appoint them. Faced with those circumstances, we might opt for a ‘professional’ attorney, like a solicitor. Appointing a professional to be our Continuing (more commonly referred to as a ‘Financial’) Attorney is fairly commonplace now; after all, paying bills, managing bank accounts, and buying and selling property is familiar territory, and can be managed very efficiently at an administrative level. What is much less common is appointing a professional to be your ‘Welfare’ Attorney.
For those professionals who are asked to be Attorneys, regardless of whether it is in a personal or professional capacity, the appointment must only be accepted with a very clear understanding of what this may involve, and the responsibility it carries.
For many, putting in place a Power of Attorney is just a precaution to insure against the risk of, one day, being unable to look after your own affairs. However, in some cases, a sudden, unexpected event will render an adult immediately incapable and, equally suddenly, the Attorney will become a vital stakeholder in making key decisions about the individual’s affairs. In such cases, it is immeasurably better if the Attorney understands what their role is, what needs to be done, and how to go about doing it.
For those people who are invited to be an Attorney, it is a case of asking some very basic questions before agreeing to it; do I know the individual well enough?; will I be able to make myself available?; am I prepared to put their needs ahead of my own at the cost of my own time, money and personal relationships? If the answer is yes to all of these questions, that is just the first step. An Attorney will need to take time to familiarise themselves with the actual Power of Attorney document, and it is surprising how many Attorneys never do this.
The Attorney should understand the powers that he or she may require to use, and think about, practically, how the Power of Attorney would be exercised. For example, if the individual is admitted to hospital and is unable to return home, how would a move to residential care would be achieved and funded? In what circumstances should the Attorney consider selling the individual’s home? So whilst it may seem obvious that you should be prepared for running a marathon before reaching the start line, it is important to treat the responsibilities of acting under a Power of Attorney seriously. The best attorneys are often those who are best prepared.
• Fraser Scott is a solicitor with Murray Beith Murray