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Powers of attorney rocket as dementia becomes Britain’s biggest killer

There has been a huge rise in the number of lasting powers of attorney set up, new figures show, as dementia and Alzheimer’s become the biggest cause of death for the first time.

Power of attorney arrangements allow an individual’s financial and health affairs to be looked after by someone else, the attorney, if they lose mental capacity in the future.

Information released under a Freedom of Information request show that in 2015, 441,500 power of attorney arrangements were set-up, compared to just 36,000 during 2008. Up to August this year, there have already been 300,000 registrations.

In total just under two million “lasting” agreements have been registered since 2008, when they replaced “enduring” power of attorneys, amid concerns that the rules were too easy to abuse.

There are two types of agreement – one covering finances and property, and another for health and welfare. Finance and property is far more popular, in 2015 there were 134,311 more of these arrangements established.

The sharp rise in new agreements  – which are set up on average when the donor is 75 – comes as the Office for National Statistics reveals deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s jumped by a fifth last year.

They accounted for almost one in eight deaths in 2015 – a total of 61,686 people – overtaking heart disease as Britain’s biggest killer.

Rachael Griffin, of Old Mutual Wealth, a pension company that filed the Freedom of Information request to get the data from the Ministry of Justice, warned many people were still exposed.

“There are still many more people who don’t appoint a power of attorney,” she said.

“Although it is possible for someone to take control of your financial or welfare decisions after an individual becomes mentally incapable, this can be a lengthy and complicated process with extra cost, which can cause distress at an already difficult time.”

Without power of attorney, friends and family have to retrospectively apply to the Court of Protection and prove why they should assume responsibility. This process incurs court fees and can take up to 16 weeks, leaving money locked into accounts until a decision is made.

To set up a power of attorney, the donor needs to fill in a set of forms from the Office of the Public Attorney. Each document – one of each type of arrangement – costs £110 to register, so a couple who want both types would pay £440.

The forms must be signed by the donor, the attorney and a “certificate provider” – someone the donor has known for two years or a professional, such as a doctor or lawyer.

You can apply yourself online, or a solicitor will typically charge around £1,000 to help you. Those on incomes below £12,000 a year or on some benefits may qualify for a discount.

Last year the average turnaround time for applications was 39 days.

Power of Attorney | Creating an agreement

Creating an agreement with a lawyer should cost a few hundred pounds. There are two types of attorney – a health and welfare attorney, who can make decisions about care, and a financial attorney, who can manage finances.

If you’re acting as an attorney for someone, there are three important things to think about:

  1. Know the rules – there are some things you can’t do as an attorney. If the person has gifts set up, an attorney can’t carry them out without permission from the court of protection. The court will weigh up whether the person would have wanted to make the gifts, and whether they can continue to make them while paying for their care.
  2. Communicate – If you’re worried someone is losing capacity, be upfront about it. There’s rarely a clear cut-off when you know someone has lost capacity, but if you talk to them regularly about how they’re feeling you can ease the transition. If they haven’t already implemented an agreement, it needs to be done before they lose capacity – so if you think it might help them, offer.
  3. Get proper advice – many attorney agreements are easily challenged by disgruntled family members because they haven’t been drafted properly. Make sure you know what can and can’t go in the agreement, and get advice from a solicitor if necessary.

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