Failing to do a Lasting Power of Attorney before you lose the mental capacity to make decisions can potentially cause delays in decision making about your care and create an administrative nightmare for family members. Assoc Prof Adeline Ng, Senior Consultant, Neurology and Dementia Program lead explains.

A diagnosis of dementia, Parkinson disease or other life-changing neurological conditions can be hard to accept. Practical considerations such as making an LPA are often put on the back burner as patients and caregivers focus on other care matters thinking they have sufficient time to wait.  Unfortunately, it is common for families to miss the window of opportunity to do so, as by the time they get around to it, the person no longer has the mental capacity to sign an LPA.

When this happens, family members need to apply to the Courts for a Deputy Order, which states who can make care decisions on behalf of the person for their medical care and manage their financial affairs, otherwise known as a court-appointed deputy. This legal document is required, even if all family members agree on whom it should be.

"The Deputy Order is needed before the appointed family member can access their loved one's bank account or sell property held in their name to pay for a helper, medical bills or other daily costs related to their loved one's needs. This can take time, slow down care decisions and the family have to use their own resources to manage their loved one's needs until all the paperwork is settled," says Assoc Prof Adeline Ng.

Delays and costs such as legal fees escalate when family members cannot agree on a Deputy and the appointment is made by the Courts. 

A judge or magistrate will consider evidence to determine which family member or close friend is best placed to act in the best interest of the person who lacks mental capacity, for example, who is involved in their daily care, accompanies them to medical appointments and other personal factors that potentially could impair someone's ability to carry out the responsibilities of a Deputy.

"Sadly, such legal battles can tear families apart and possibly result in the Court appointing a Deputy who might not have been the person's preference. That is why it is so important for people who have recently been diagnosed with a neurological condition to discuss their wishes with family members and to prioritise making an LPA," advises Assoc Prof Ng.