With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic many people are understandably concerned about getting documents in place to allow someone else to make decisions on their behalf and manage their financial affairs. With many vulnerable people currently being advised to self-isolate this means having an attorney to carry out certain tasks on their behalf is incredibly useful.
Normally when we think of powers of attorney we think of Lasting Power of Attorney (LPAs). These documents allow a donor to appoint attorneys to make decisions on their behalf should they lose capacity to make their own decisions. They can be made to appoint someone to make decisions about health and welfare as well as property and financial affairs. In the case of managing financial affairs an LPA can also be used while the donor still has capacity to make their own decisions, making them useful for someone who has mental capacity but maybe still needs a bit of extra support.
General Powers of Attorney (GPAs) are very different. This type of document can only be used by a donor wishing to appoint an attorney to manage their financial affairs and is only valid while the donor has mental capacity. As soon as capacity is lost the GPA is no longer useable and the attorney can’t make any more decisions for the donor.
So why choose a General Power of Attorney right now?
At the moment LPA applications are progressing quite slowly. The Office of the Public Guardian is doing it’s best to process applications within their target of 40 days, but like many companies right now they are running on reduced staff. This means that it’s taking longer to get an LPA registered, and if there are any issues with it it’s currently difficult to contact the OPG by phone.
The more pressing issue though are the barriers to getting the LPA completed in the first place. Completing an LPA requires a donor, a certificate provider, at least one attorney, and a witness to witness the donor and all attorney’s signatures. In an ideal world the certificate provider could act as the witness to all people involved limiting the amount of people who need to be involved in the signing, but even without the current social distancing rules managing to gather the donor and all of their attorneys together is a rare occurrence, with attorneys often living far away from the donor.
For a person who needs someone to make decisions for them right away a GPA can be a great alternative currently. There is no registration requirement, so the document is ready to use as soon as it has been properly signed. There are also less people involved in the creation of a GPA. The only people who need to sign are the donor themselves and a witness. There is no need for a certificate provider, and no need for the attorney to sign.
The GPA is executed as a deed poll by the donor, so the rules on who can act as a witness for them are not strict. The witness must be over 18, have capacity, and can’t themselves be a party to the deed. The attorney isn’t strictly a party to the deed as they aren’t a signatory, but it is still best to avoid them acting as a witness. What this does mean though is that someone else in the household could act as the witness, allowing the document to be made without placing anyone at any risk.
What this doesn’t mean…
This doesn’t mean that LPAs should be forgotten about altogether. Since a GPA ends if the donor loses capacity it is still best to make sure that steps are being taken to get an LPA put in place as soon as it’s possible to do so.