Dementia Awareness Week is now in full swing, running from 29 May – 4 June 2017. To mark this we are posting a series of blogs to equip you with information and practical steps you can take to help yourself and your family.

This first blog discusses the benefits of having a power of attorney and explores guardianship alternatives. Blogs following later this week will report on the upcoming Alzheimer Scotland Annual Conference and final thoughts. Watch this space!

In the age of social media, everyone is making a conscious effort to connect and feel part of a wider community. A recent survey conducted by Alzheimer Scotland has revealed some shocking statistics, highlighting that people living with dementia are experiencing significant loss of friendships and social connections.

It is not surprising that this can lead to feelings of increasing isolation and loneliness. A poll of over 500 participants found that:

  • Two out of three people living with dementia have lost friendships following being diagnosed with dementia.
  • 60% of people living with dementia are reluctant to attend social gatherings, including weddings and birthdays with friends and family.
  • 91% of participants felt that the public lacked awareness of dementia and what it is like to live with the illness.

In Scotland there are currently approximately 90,000 people living with dementia and if the above figures are anything to go by, a lot has to be done to help these individuals.

We frequently hear that the UK has an ageing population and in this light it is increasingly important that we continue to raise awareness of dementia as it becomes more relevant to our everyday lives.

We shall look at how the rise of dementia should affect our personal planning for the future – and, in particular, the importance of having a power of attorney and what can happen if it is too late to make one.

Question to ask yourself

Have you thought about who would look after your or your parents’ financial matters should you or they lose capacity? What about your parents’ welfare?

It is a common misconception that your partner or children would automatically be able to act on your behalf should you lose capacity but it is simply not the case. The only way your partner, children or even a close relative or friend can legally act on your behalf is if you grant a power of attorney in their favour or they have been appointed as your guardian by the court.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney gives the people you trust the power to manage your affairs. You decide which powers are included and they can be tailored to your specific circumstances.

There are two types – a continuing power of attorney and a welfare power of attorney.

A continuing power of attorney gives your attorney(s) the authority to deal with your financial and/or property affairs should you lose capacity. It can also be used by the attorney whilst you still have capacity if you give them permission and this can be helpful if, for example, you travel abroad often and need documents to be signed in your absence.

A welfare power of attorney, as it sounds, gives your attorney(s) the authority to make decisions on your behalf in relation to your personal welfare, for example, the consent or refusal of certain medical treatment or where you live, should you lose capacity to deal with these matters. Unlike a continuing power of attorney, a welfare power of attorney can only be used if you become incapable.

The benefits of a power of attorney

A power of attorney gives you the opportunity to decide who would be responsible for your future affairs should you lose capacity. It allows you to choose exactly which powers are included and the deed can be specifically tailored to your needs and circumstances and you can choose the people that you trust.

Guardianship

If it is too late to make a power of attorney and powers are needed to manage your financial and property matters and/or welfare, there are limited options available. The most common is guardianship. An application is made to the local Sheriff Court by the family members seeking appointment as guardian or failing any willing family (or close friends), the local authority.

This can be an expensive (though Legal Aid may be available for part or all of the cost), stressful and cumbersome process.

It takes approximately 6 months (and can take even longer) for someone to be formally appointed as guardian. This can be incredibly traumatising and frustrating as it is likely that decisions need to be made with some urgency for example, on moving a parent to a care home from a hospital ward or completing the sale of a property.

If you do not have a power of attorney, we recommend that you put one in place, simply as a precaution for the future. A power of attorney is often seen as a type of insurance policy – you put it in place in the hope that you never need it, but should anything ever happen to you, you (and more importantly your family) will be very glad it is there.