The lasting power of attorney (LPA) was introduced in 2007. It was designed to provide more flexibility and greater protections than its predecessor, the enduring power of attorney (EPA). Enabling people to decide who should be in charge of their health and welfare or their finances, when they can no longer take charge themselves, is the main purpose of Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs).
However, technology has progressed rapidly in recent years, and the majority of people now expect to be able to carry out most services online. The pandemic has also highlighted the constraints of the current system, including the volume of paper being used and the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the procedure. If the system is not modernised, the service will become unsustainable which will lead to higher fees, therefore making it increasingly unaffordable.
The current system requires the completion and signing of paper forms to arrange an LPA. There was a semi-digital process introduced in 2013 that enables the forms to be completed online but then be printed off for signature by all the parties involved. Many people believe this system to be complicated, cumbersome and bureaucratic and the Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on changing the process.
The consultation is looking at 7 proposals including:
- The role of witnesses and whether they are necessary
- The registration process
- The remit of the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) which registers LPAs
- How and when people can object to an LPA
- The speed of the service (including the potential introduction of a fast track service for when LPAs are required urgently)
- Whether solicitors should be able to access the service.
Because the desire to have access to digital systems is not universal, an offline procedure will also need to be maintained to ensure that the needs of these users are also met.
Whilst modernisation will hopefully encourage more people to enter into LPAs and make the system more user-friendly, there is a worry that this could lead to vulnerable people being more at risk of abuse and coercion and sufficient safeguards will need to be included to prevent this occurring. A call for clearer guidance for all involved would also be beneficial to ensure that all parties, especially attorneys, understand their roles.
Digitalisation will inevitably lead to an increase in DIY LPAs, but the value of meeting with a solicitor to draw up an LPA should not be underestimated.
Not only can the solicitor help to ensure that there is no abuse or coercion occurring when the documents are created and signed, they can provide advice to the donors and the attorneys on the attorneys’ role to ensure that no inadvertent abuse occurs. They can also ensure that all LPAs are suitable for the donor’s current and future circumstances.