Top tips for attorneys in the wake of Covid-19
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Georgia Wookey from leading Devon law firm Stephens Scown LLP outlines some tips to help with the additional pressures suring these uncertain times.
Coronavirus is causing uncertainty and disruption to normal life for everyone, but for attorneys and deputies, who have a legal responsibility to make decisions on behalf of other people, there are additional pressures.
You can make decisions on someone’s behalf if they appoint you using a lasting power of attorney. The person who appoints you is called the ‘donor’. You are their ‘attorney’. The types of decisions you make depend on whether you are a property and financial affairs attorney or a health and welfare attorney. A deputy has a similar role, but is appointed by the Court of Protection when someone has already lost capacity.
When faced with being responsible for someone else’s care in these difficult times, as well as having an eye on the economic climate, it is vital to ensure you comply with your duties as an attorney. If you don’t comply with your legal duties, in certain circumstances you may acquire personal liability. Here are some top tips to help.
Maintain regular contact: It is important for you to maintain contact with the donor and attempt to discuss the issues you are currently making decisions about for their benefit. Rather than visiting the donor in person you can catch up regularly by telephone or by video call using Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp or Facetime. If you have to visit the donor please ensure you follow the government’s up to date guidance for vulnerable adults, which is available on the government website.
Communicate the government restrictions and guidance: if you have care responsibilities for another under a health and welfare lasting power of attorney you should contact the donor on a regular basis to ensure they are aware of the up to date covid-19 health advice. You should also ensure they are complying with the latest guidance (as best they can). If necessary, you may need to contact their local health care support to ensure they are receiving the care and support they require.
Review household provisions: you must consider how the donor’s resources may be stretched over the coming months – both in financial and care terms – and plan accordingly. It would be prudent to ensure the donor has enough food, medication and essential supplies at home, along with the necessary support in the event of prolonged restrictions. If you are unable to get provisions to the donor yourself, you should arrange for a neighbour or volunteer to assist with getting medication and/or household provisions to them instead. There are various volunteer groups across the region that are helping vulnerable people in their communities and you may be able to get support from them..
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Internet Banking: Internet banking and the ability to manage finances online has never been more important. If you haven’t set up internet access already you should do so now. However, before doing this you should discuss this with the donor as best as you possibly can, given their medical condition. It is important to ensure you can still release funds on their behalf and pay for care as well as other things they may need (where the donor is unable to do this themselves).
Financial support: if you have financial responsibilities under a property and finance lasting power of attorney you must consider fully your duty to protect the donor’s income and capital growth of those assets. Taking into account the current financial climate and the economic predictions, it would be sensible (particularly if the assets include investments, share portfolios or property) for you to engage a financial adviser or other relevant expert. They could review the nature of the assets and risks and advise whether you need to consider moving any to best protect the donor’s capital and income for both the short and long-term future. For example, if an adviser recommends leaving investments where they are for the time being and reviewing the position in three months, it would be prudent for them to confirm this in writing and for you to ensure the further review is undertaken as directed. Remember, always keep notes of your decisions and actions undertaken in case an investigation is undertaken by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) in the future.
It is natural for attorneys or deputies to feel concerned at this difficult time. It may be prudent to take legal advice to ensure you are complying with your duties, and avoid an unwarranted OPG investigation.
Stephens Scown’s legal advisors are working remotely and continue to offer support and advice during the coronavirus pandemic. For more information visit www.stephens-scown.co.uk, where the firm’s covid-19 insights hub is regularly updated. To contact Georgia, please call 01392 210700 or email email@example.com