Published 30 September 2021
No one wants to be left in limbo should the worst happen - finding themselves suddenly incapacitated.
Whether struck by COVID-19, a traffic accident, a dementia diagnosis, mental health issue or injury at work, life can change in an instant and in times of crisis we all need the help and support of others.
Sadly, in such times it’s common that distressed families, friends and partners discover – to their dismay – that they have no automatic legal rights to direct the medical welfare or financial affairs of a loved one who can no longer make these decisions for themselves.
In such cases, a court-appointed Guardian generally steps in to oversee their welfare. Yet it needn’t be this way.
Contrary to urban myth, the only officially recognised way to ensure that a trusted family member or friend is legally empowered to oversee their loved one’s affairs is to have a Power of Attorney (PoA) registered with the Office of the Public Guardian (Scotland) ahead of time.
Anyone aged over 16 years can grant a Power of Attorney, either solely addressing their welfare or financial affairs or combining both in a single document.
This is such a crucial issue, potentially affecting millions of Scots, that Scotland’s health and social care partnerships have come together to actively support and spread the word about Power of Attorney Day 2021 which takes place today.
Multiple partners from the public, private and voluntary sector are on board, including:
with support from carers’ networks and advocacy groups Scotland-wide.
Judith Proctor, chair of the chief officers’ group, Health and Social Care Scotland said: “Perhaps surprisingly, only around 80,000 Scots – less than 1.5% of the Scottish population – have registered a PoA each year between 2018 and 2021.
“To raise awareness, Power of Attorney Day 2021 will highlight the practical benefits of granting PoA while busting a few myths and commonly held misunderstandings, such as Power of Attorney isn’t just for the elderly or infirm. It’s for people like you.
“Power of Attorney does not mean giving away your power or legal rights nor does it replace your will. It’s more akin to the insurance policies we may have for our homes and cars, so why not this straightforward document to safeguard your own wishes during your lifetime?
“With PoA in place, a trusted family member or friend can carry out your instructions should you lose the ability to make your own decisions.”
Fiona Brown, Office of the Public Guardian (Scotland) added: “We all need a Power of Attorney regardless of our age, health, wealth, or relationship status.
“You never know when your physical or mental health could change due to accident or illness. So to ensure you are the one who decides who should look after your affairs if you cannot - and to reduce the burden and stress on your family at that time - please appoint a legal proxy, by organising and registering your Power of Attorney.”
There is a cost involved in setting up any legal document but support is at hand.
Kirsteen Watson, Assistant Manager of Civil Legal Services at the Scottish Legal Aid Board, said: “Anyone with a weekly disposable income of up to £245 could be eligible for advice and assistance to have a solicitor prepare a Power of Attorney on their behalf.
“Our website has an online calculator to help find out whether you may qualify for advice and assistance. We also have a listing of solicitors you can search to see if there is one who can act for you locally, and some may offer online consultations during these pandemic-restricted times.”
For more details visit www.mypowerofattorney.org.uk, and social channels @StartTalkingPoA.