Could Lasting Power of Attorneys go digital?
A more straightforward digital system to set up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) could come into play, but experts say that it is vital that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect elderly and vulnerable people from abuse.
In this article, we look at how the system might work, and the concerns for potential abuse of a digital process for setting up Lasting Power of Attorney.
What is a Lasting Power of Attorney?
A Lasting Power of Attorney is a legal document which allows a person to appoint someone to manage their affairs should they lose the capacity to do so themselves. This is often a family member but could also be a professional, such as a solicitor.
Why introduce a digital system?
An LPA is an essential part of planning for the future and in recent years registrations have surged. However, creating and registering an LPA still involves a significant amount of paperwork, based on a system created more than 30 years ago.
The Government is looking to both modernise and simplify the process by introducing a digital system. The new system will introduce a fast-track process to grant LPAs to people who need them urgently, for example, if a person’s health is deteriorating quickly. At present, it takes around 12 weeks to register an LPA, which is challenging for those with a relative who has suffered a sudden change in their health or mental capacity.
What are the difficulties with introducing a digital system?
Both legal and financial experts have welcomed the proposed changes to the process for registering an LPA but have pointed out some challenges. Firstly, a digital system without properly considered safeguards could mean that elderly or vulnerable people are targeted for abuse or coercion.
Justice Minister Alex Chalke says:
‘An LPA is not just a piece of paper. It is a legal agreement that allows a person to set out their wishes and preferences and have peace of mind that these will be followed. The protections that exist in the LPA are based on decades, if not centuries, of tradition and legal case law. They’re based on known and trusted paper-based social conventions, such as signing and witnessing’
Furthermore, although many elderly people have adopted technology, there is still a large proportion who do not have access to a computer or smartphone.
Manzurul Islam, head of our Wills and Probate team, said:
“Whilst it is welcome news that the government is finally investing in digitising LPAs, the majority of people who make them are older and less fluent with technology. The proposed computerised system will need to have robust procedures in place for ensuring capacity is verified and that witnesses are present. The physical signing of a form at least provided an opportunity for the witnesses and certificate provider to discuss the LPA and consider capacity. It is important we make sure LPAs remain safe and effective as they are an excellent tool in helping families and vulnerable adults cope during difficult times.”