Who to choose as your attorneys

When you make a lasting power of attorney document, the legal term for a person who you nominate to make decisions about your care or your finances on your behalf is an "attorney".

The term can at first seem a little confusing because we are used to hearing Americans use it as an abbreviation of "attorney in law" – their equivalent of a solicitor. However, in English, the word simply means "someone who acts on your behalf". So the American "attorney in law" is simply equivalent to "someone who helps you with legal matters".

An attorney with respect to your LPA is someone who has legal authority to make either financial decisions, or decisions relating to health and welfare, on your behalf. They can, but aren’t required, to have knowledge of law or previous legal training.

What types of decisions your attorneys might make

The sorts of decisions that helpers might make include:

  • where you live and who you live with

  • your day to day routine

  • what clothes you wear and what you eat

  • what arrangements there are in place for personal care such as washing and dressing

  • what appointments you have with doctors, dentists and opticians

  • agreeing to or refusing health care

You can guide your helpers in their choices, or restrict them from certain decisions by stating preferences and instructions.

Who to choose

You can ask anyone with mental capacity, aged 18 or over to be your attorney.

In deciding who to nominate, you might consider:

Do you know them well, and do they know you well?

Are the decisions they make likely to be the ones you would want them to make? Some decisions will be hard to make, but will need to be made.

Do you trust them to do right by you?

This is less a question of intentional harm, and more one of unintentional harm or lack of appropriate action. Are they people who will actively care for and consider you?

Do they have lifestyles that allow them to make good decisions on your behalf?

Do they live close enough? Do they have enough spare time to give you some of it? Are they free of other worries and commitments? Your attorneys will be required to make decisions at short notice, and those decisions may need a lot of work to be carried out beforehand. For example, if you had non-fatal stroke that paralysed one half of your body, and as a result needed more specialist round the clock care, would you attorneys be able to drop their day to day lives and help you?

Are their own life affairs organised?

Being an attorney requires that you can organise someone else’s life as well as your own. If a potential attorney is absent minded with regards to their life, they probably won’t be a good choice.

Will they work well with the other attorneys you appoint, and other people who are in your life?

If your attorneys cannot agree with each other, then coming to a decision will be difficult.

These people will represent you. If they can be difficult, rude, and aggressive, even with good intentions, they may not be able to make the best things happen. You shouldn’t nominate people who you think might upset others on who you will depend.

Will they be able to make decisions for you for the rest of your life?

People of the same age often have similar views of the world, and therefore make good helpers. However, you should bear in mind whether that person will be able to continue to make decisions for you for the rest of your life.

Your helpers may become too frail to offer proper help, or may become mentally incapacitated themselves.

An alternative way of involving someone

Don’t feel you have to appoint someone just because you don’t want to offend him or her. If you want him or her to feel involved, you can choose to notify him or her officially that you have made the document.

How many people to appoint as attorneys

We recommend that you choose at least two people, and appoint at least one replacement in the next section of the forms.

Nominating more than one person can decrease the workload on an individual, mitigate some of the potential problems of only having one person, and benefit from the strengths of personality of many people.

You should think in advance that you’re unlikely to find the perfect person. Instead, we recommend choosing a small team, and allowing them to work flexibly.

Most people choose a husband or a wife, and/or some or all adult children.

The converse of the strengths of a team is that if you appoint more than four people, decision making might become difficult because each person will have different opinions. Except if there is very good reason to do so, we recommend that you appoint a maximum of four helpers.

Will an attorney always take up a position?

A helper is not obliged to take up their position. It is best if each person agrees to help you before he or she is named in the LPA.

However, personal circumstances change, and someone who agreed ten years earlier, may find that life circumstances prevent them from helping you in the way you need.

This is another reason why nominating more than one person, and/or replacements is a good idea.

Making an LPA

Net Lawman, in partnership with Unforgettable.org, an online retailer of dementia related products and services, have created a free online LPA service. You can make either or both types of lasting power of attorney using it, and optionally have them checked by a professional will writer for a small fee.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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