Lockdown has given us all the chance to take stock – Lynsey Kerr

Seeking to put your affairs in order during a time of such uncertainty is practical and pragmatic, says Lynsey Kerr

Lynsey Kerr is a Partner in the Private Client team at Lindsays
Lynsey Kerr is a Partner in the Private Client team at Lindsays

The heartbreaking realities of the coronavirus pandemic have undoubtedly led to many of us thinking “what if?” in many aspects of our lives and our work.

Often, it is easier to avoid acknowledging these thoughts or have the conversations with those closest to us. But many of us are taking a more practical and pragmatic outlook amid the surreal circumstances in which we find ourselves.

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Indeed, lockdown has given many people a chance to take stock of their life, review their current administrative arrangements – and put their personal affairs into order.

We are seeing people seeking peace of mind about how they and their loved ones would be looked after should they fall seriously ill, whether as a consequence of coronavirus or anything else.

A Power of Attorney (PoA) sets out who can act on your behalf with financial affairs and personal welfare in the event that you, for whatever reason, cannot.

This is something each of us has to arrange personally while mentally able to do so. If we cannot do this ourselves, it is too late.

What is also important to know – especially at this time – is that, while rules have been revised to ensure these documents can still be signed during lockdown, it can still take time.

Scottish legal procedure means that these documents must be signed in front of a solicitor, or a doctor. We are working with the guidance from the Law Society of Scotland about how to conduct this via video interview for those with the technology to do so, easing their concerns.

The Society states that, regarding signatures, solicitors must provide the granter with the Power of Attorney document in advance, either by post or, where the client has facilities to print it off, by email (preferably a PDF version which cannot be altered).

The granter of the document should not sign the document in advance of the interview and must show the solicitor via video conference that the document is indeed unsigned prior to the interview.

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During the interview, all normal requirements should be followed. If the solicitor is satisfied that the document can properly be certified, then, at the solicitor’s request, the granter should sign the document and a witness should sign as appropriate. The granter should then show the solicitor the signed copy of the Power of Attorney document.

Then the Power of Attorney has to be registered at the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), a process which can take between eight and ten weeks in normal circumstances – and, as we all know, these are far from normal circumstances. E

ven when a Power of Attorney is signed and registered with the OPG, it still needs to be logged on bank accounts, with the pension service and other organisations.

For me, this highlights the need for us all to have our affairs in order at any time – as well as highlighting the need for the legal profession to ensure it is able to adapt to people’s rapidly-evolving digital lifestyles.

And we should not think that conversations about Power of Attorney should focus entirely on elderly relatives and planning for old age. This crisis reinforces the irrelevance of age to any of us facing unexpected circumstances.

Sole traders or small business owners should be particularly mindful of the need for putting a financial Power of Attorney in place, in the event that they were suddenly incapacitated.

There needs to be someone assigned to deal with issues including who would pay suppliers, manage the bank account, deal with contracts, file VAT returns or generally keep customers happy. Otherwise there could be catastrophic consequences for your credit record, business relationships and reputation, as well as for dependents relying on your income.

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Times of crisis often focus the mind. One of the positives of Covid-19 may be that we all take a little more time to protect ourselves, our loved ones and those who rely upon us – by ensuring our personal and business affairs are in order.

Lynsey Kerr is a Partner in the Private Client team at Lindsays

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