We all make plans for the future, but when receiving a diagnosis of a time limiting illness, the last thing one wants to think about is planning for death. First comes denial and then the emotional turmoil of who to speak to, and turn to, for assistance.
In fact, if plans are made when still in good health and when emotions are not running high it can make for a smooth transition for the latter stage of life, and this does come to us all. You do not have to be ill or dying to think about what you would or wouldn't want in the future – or of a ripe age!
Guidelines on the following issues give simple steps that can be taken to ensure that you have peace of mind and that important emotional matters can be addressed now rather than when time is short.
- Lasting Power of Attorney – Property and Financial Affairs
- Lasting Power of Attorney – Health and Welfare
- Advanced Directive/Decision/Living Will
- Organ Donation.
Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)
Talking about what would happen if our faculties deserted us is uncomfortable. Yet it's important to consider how much worse the situation would be if you had a stroke, serious accident or dementia without sorting it first.
If someone has difficulties that mean they can't make decisions anymore (lose capacity), they will need help managing their finances and a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document where someone (while they still have mental capacity) nominates a trusted friend(s) or relative(s) to look after their affairs if they lose capacity. Setting up a LPA does not mean that you suddenly hand over control of your affairs, you can choose whether it can be used before, or only when, you lose mental capacity.
Why should you set up a Lasting Power of Attorney? Because once you have lost mental capacity it is too late and then your loved ones will need to apply through court to become 'deputy', and this is a long and expensive process.
There are two types of LPA:-
Property and financial affairs LPA
This gives your attorney(s) (the friend or relative you nominated) the power to make decisions about your money and property, including managing bank or building society accounts, paying bills, collecting a pension or benefits and, if necessary, selling your home – but only when you lose capacity. Once registered with the Office of the Public Guardian, it can be used immediately, or held in readiness until required. It can only be used if you are unable to make your own decisions.
Health and welfare LPA
This gives your attorney (the friend or relative you nominated) the power to make decisions about your daily routine (washing, dressing, eating), medical care, moving into a care home and life-sustaining medical treatment. Once registered with the Office of the Public Guardian, it can be used immediately, or held in readiness until required.
If you made a Lasting Power of Attorney before the law changed in 2015, this is still legal for property and finances but not for health and welfare so it may be a good time to review these issues if you already had set them in place prior to this date.
The cost of a LPA has often been a barrier but the government has now simplified the process and this can be done online at a cost of £110 for each LPA unless you are eligible for a reduction or exemption. The first decision is whether or not to use a solicitor. If you're fairly legally and financially literate, the DIY route will save £600-ish in legal fees.
However, the LPA is a powerful legal document. You may wish to get a solicitor to help if you're unsure about the process, the family does not get on, or there are complex assets, such as businesses or overseas property. The local Citizens Advice centre may also be able to help.
Writing a will is the only way to ensure that your wishes are carried out and will avoid leaving difficult legal problems behind for your family. This does not have to be an expensive process and there are some charities that have arrangements with local solicitors to write a will for free with the hope that you will support them by leaving a bequest to them in your will. This has the advantage that you needn't pay now, it'll come out of your estate and it is inheritance tax-deductible.
March and October each year brings together a group of well-respected charities to offer members of the public aged 55 and over the opportunity to have their simple Wills written or updated free of charge by using participating solicitors in selected locations around England and Wales. You can register your interest on the website Free Wills Month.
A UK-wide scheme, run every November, is when Will Aid teams up with over 1,000 solicitors to provide basic wills. If you have a particular charity in mind that you'd like to leave a gift to, check with it whether it runs a scheme of its own. There are a number of charities that offer free simple wills - usually for charity members and over-55s. Here are links to some charities offering a will writing service in exchange for a future bequest.
A number of trade unions, including major ones like the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the NASUWT teachers' union, the Fire Brigades Union and Unison offer free or heavily discounted will-writing services to their members. Also if you opted to get legal cover as part of your home or car insurance policy, check whether it includes a will service.
The above options are for simple Wills and if you've complicated affairs and a will-writing expert is your prime concern, then looking for recommendations and the reputation of individual Will writers or solicitors is the best bet.
Living Will (Advance Decision)
An Advance Decision is the shortened version of the legal term "Advance Decision to Refuse Treatment". This used to be called a Living Will and is also known as an Advance Directive.
With all these names, the purpose of the form is to actually allow you to set out the treatment or procedures you wish to refuse should you lose the capacity to make decisions for yourself in the future and it is advisable to discuss your decisions with your GP and those closest to you so that they are fully aware of your wishes. You can access the form at Compassion in Dying or their new link www.MyDecisions.org.uk, where someone can make an Advance Decision or Advance Statement online.
Having written your Will, signed a LPA and thought about what medical treatment you would like to receive or refuse, do make sure the family are aware of your requirements and where you have filed the documents.
It can be useful to then take the time to discuss what music and readings you would like at your funeral. These conversations are never easy and there may be laughter and tears, but the earlier you talk about dying wishes, the easier it is emotionally and practically for all the family.
There is also the issue of Organ Donation; people of all ages can register as organ donors and this can mean that someone can benefit from your organs after your death. It takes only 2 minutes to fill in a form that can be the ultimate gift of life and transform up to 9 lives.
The NHS website on "Preparing for future care needs" contains information that may be helpful when planning ahead.