Friday 30 September 2016

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Why you need to consider choosing a Power of Attorney in the case the worst happens'

Medical advances and better living standards mean we can generally expect to live longer. That brings its own challenges. Have you considered a Power of Attorney? And if not, why not?

Ciara Kelly

Published 07/09/2015 | 02:30

We can't solve the problems of old age as they did in Cocoon, courtesy of an alien encounter.
We can't solve the problems of old age as they did in Cocoon, courtesy of an alien encounter.

It's fair to say that none of us ever really believes that we'll be old one day. That someday we'll be that old woman, stooped in layers of cardigans. Or that old man with rheumy eyes to whom you have to speak loudly in order to be heard. It's very hard to see yourself in that role. Old age, despite being a privilege denied to many, tends to be something we'd rather not think about. We have in youth, and even in middle age, a bullet-proof layer of denial that tells us we will never have a dodgy hip, a leaky prostate or a faulty memory. And in fairness, that's probably OK. It's probably OK to live in the moment and cross those bridges when you come to them.

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However, we're an ageing population - which means more and more of us are living well into our seventies, eighties and nineties, and will experience first-hand the problems associated with that. One such problem is, of course, dementia. Increasing numbers of us will face this, and we, and indeed our families, will have to deal with it. Medicine and improved standards of living allow us to live longer, but not with perfect health.

For many, it starts with a difficulty recalling simple things. A name, a word, an incident. Gradually, our short-term memory becomes generally poor, creating problems managing the simple activities of living. Remembering to turn off the cooker. Remembering where you left your keys. Remembering your way home. Over time, as dementia advances, managing your affairs becomes impossible. Dealing with your bank accounts and your pension is very hard when you don't know if a hundred, has two zeros or three.

A Power of Attorney allows you to give someone you trust, the ability to manage your financial affairs for you, allows them to lodge or withdraw cash, to pay bills and to transfer money between accounts. All very basic financial transactions - but they can be beyond the ability of a patient with dementia.

You have to set up a Power of Attorney while you still have all your mental faculties as, understandably, you can't nominate someone to manage your financial affairs if you've lost the capacity to understand what that means. So you instigate part one of a POA with your solicitor while you're well. Before the onset of dementia or indeed anything else that damages your mental capacity. Part two - the activation of the POA, occurs only should you ever need it. If you retain full mental capacity throughout your life, it will never be used.

If, however, you develop dementia and you haven't set up a power of attorney, you and your loved ones have a big difficulty. If you've already lost your mental capacity, a POA can't be initiated. I've seen it happen where families cannot access their parent's bank accounts to pay bills and in order to access funds they have to have them made a ward of court, which is stressful, slow and expensive - eroding a chunk of your savings in legal fees.

A power of attorney is simple to set up. It needs a signature from you and your solicitor and a signed declaration by your GP stating you have capacity to instigate such a legal instrument. But it can save you and your family huge hassle and expense.

We are all living longer, but that can bring its own trials. A power of attorney is a simple inexpensive legal tool that can help ensure you will have safe access to your own funds in later life. No one ever thinks it'll be them who needs it, but, much like a will, it's far better to have one, should that need arise.

@ciarakellydoc

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