We hear a lot of horror stories in our line of work – so what CAN happen if you don’t have a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)?
Here are some true-life examples we have come across.
The possible implications of not having a Finance & Property LPA in place when a property needs to be sold:
An elderly lady called Celia and her brother, Stan, shared the family home. Unfortunately, Celia became ill with Dementia and ended up in a nursing home. Stan was then left alone in their large draughty farmhouse. Stan assumed he would be able to sell the family home and buy himself a nice little retirement flat. He was looking forward to being somewhere with some activities onsite and other residents to talk to.
However, Stan couldn’t do this because there was no Lasting Power of Attorney in place for Celia, and her Dementia was by then too far advanced for her to make one. The only option was to apply to The Court of Protection for the right to sell the home. Stan was told this could cost anything up to £6,000 and would take months, possible years, to execute – he decided not to go down that route. He has had to carry on living in the house on his own, increasingly struggling to manage.
Making an LPA whilst Celia was well enough would have enabled him to sell the property, take care of his sister’s share of the money, pay her care fees and buy himself that little flat he dreamed of.
The time it can take to get a Deputy appointed where an LPA isn’t in place:
A client called Mark who we saw recently was making LPAs himself due to the experience he was having with his Mum. She had advanced Dementia and did not have an LPA in place. To enable them to sell her property and access her savings to pay her care home fees they had to go to The Court of Protection for permission. This application has been underway with the court for over a year, and it is still at very early stages. In the meantime, nobody can access his Mum’s money – so, many bills remain unpaid and there are obviously companies chasing for their money.
The problems that can occur if an LPA for Health & Welfare hasn’t been made:
We recently had a client called Marjorie who had sensibly made an LPA for Property & Finance, but at the time she didn’t realise the importance of making one for Health & Welfare as well.
She had health problems and on one occasion she felt so bad that her daughter, Lynne, called an ambulance. By the time paramedics arrived Marjorie felt a little better and slowly started to improve while they did their checks etc. They thought that she should still go to hospital for some more tests, but Marjorie really didn’t want that to happen. She was having trouble convincing them so Lynne stepped in to reassure them that she’d stay with her Mum that night so she wouldn’t be alone, telling them ‘I have Power of Attorney’. The paramedics asked to see the LPA document and Lynne duly showed it to them. Unfortunately, it was the LPA for Property & Finance which gave Lynne no right to speak on her mother’s behalf for anything health related. The paramedics dismissed the LPA and insisted on taking Marjorie to hospital.
Marjorie doesn’t want a repeat of that trauma, so she has now made an LPA for Health & Welfare as well so that Lorraine can legally speak on her behalf in future.
And then… one of the benefits of having an LPA for Health & Welfare in place:
Susan has a Mum in a local care home with Dementia. She sometimes has a funny turn that requires her to rest and have a cup of sugary tea. Within an hour she is fine. The staff who work during the day are aware of this and know that they don’t need to call an ambulance, but the night agency staff don’t know about it and on one occasion recently they called an ambulance. Susan’s Mum was taken to hospital and instantly sent home, as she was fine by then. The paramedics were of course only doing their extremely difficult job and acted in the correct way, not knowing this was a common occurrence.
Susan has since lodged a copy of the Health & Welfare LPA prominently in the home, and they now ring her when her Mum has a turn and Susan can prevent admission to hospital if she feels it isn’t necessary. A doctor told Susan that every day in hospital sets Dementia patients back by weeks, as it distresses and confuses them so much.
A situation you might not have thought of where LPAs are a really good idea:
When a child has a disability or learning difficulties a parent or guardian can legally look after their money and talk to medical professionals on their behalf until they are 18. At that point they officially become an adult, and although things can still often be done informally, banks and medical professionals have no legal obligation to liaise with the parents or guardians.
We were asked to help in this situation by Lorraine, Mum of 25 year old Sarah, who has
Down’s Syndrome. Since Sarah turned 18 Lorraine had been having problems getting doctors to listen to her. She is the one person who truly understands her daughter’s care needs – she knows how Sarah responds and copes with things. Sarah is an independent and bright young woman, but she finds hospitals and doctors a challenge. We were able to do both types of LPA for Sarah, who has the mental capacity to say that she wanted her Mum to deal with her finances and to talk to doctors on her behalf. It took some patience and understanding to get the information and signatures we needed from Sarah to complete the LPA documents, but now her Mum can speak on Sarah’s behalf to get her the best possible care. Lorraine was so relieved that we were able to help in this difficult situation.
We find that real-life examples of circumstances where an LPA is useful, and examples of stories we have heard about situations where an LPA wasn’t in place, are very interesting to our clients. Stories such as these make them realise why they should make LPAs – even if they are on the face of it young and well. Who knows when an accident or stroke could make someone lose mental capacity!
We offer home visits locally, and our fees are extremely competitive (£175 for one LPA and £300 if both types are required). The only other fee is the court fee of up to £82 per document if registration of an LPA is required – but you may not decide to register your LPA for use immediately. Our consultant will explain all of that to you and give you the options.
Why should you use a member of The Society of Will Writers rather than a solicitor to draft your Will and Lasting Power of Attorney documents?
A member of the Society of Will Writers is a fully qualified and regulated professional Will and Lasting Power of Attorney writer, who must undertake vigorous training to qualify for membership and then undergo continuous training and assessment.
Members continue to train on a yearly basis doing a minimum of 24 hours.
All members hold Professional Indemnity insurance with a minimal level cover of £2 million.
All members adhere to the Society of Will Writers Code of Practice and complaints procedure.
Members are only admitted after a stringent and robust application process.
Members are entitled to technical support to ensure they offer the best service to their clients.
Members offer a statutory cooling off period of 14 days in accordance with the Consumer Contract Regulations.
Cost – This is a big consideration as a solicitor could charge around £300 or more for a simple will. At A R K a straightforward single Will costs £125 and for couples, Mirror Wills cost £225. Lasting Powers of Attorney can be round £400 each with most solicitors. We charge £175 for one document or £300 for two at A R K.
A R K offers a personal, bespoke service and will hold appointments in the comfort of your own home. We find that our clients prefer this option, rather than attending the formal office setting for appointments, which is preferred by most solicitors.
Service – A fully qualified solicitor is unlikely to draft your Will in person. This is likely to be done by a legal clerk with far less qualifications than a qualified Will Writer with the Society of Will Writers.
Society of Will Writers members are Will-Writing specialists – not legal ‘general practitioners.’ Solicitors are not averse to people making their own Wills as they make more money out of sorting out the mess which many DIY Wills leave behind. Members of the Society of Will Writers don’t have this conflict of interest.
Specialist Advice – A Will Writer deals almost exclusively with one area of law – succession planning – and as such, we are best placed to offer specialist advice, which ensures you receive the advice which is best for you.
At A R K we offer free advice and do not charge an hourly rate like many solicitors do. We pride ourselves on a simple and transparent pricing policy that is clearly displayed on our website. We feel this is important, as you can be confident that you know in advance the exact cost. Many solicitors charge an hourly rate for advice, as well as a Will drafting fee. This, from our experience, can be around £100 per hour or more.
It is a misconception that a Will Writer cannot arrange storage of Wills. At A R K we use a safe central storage company, and recommend you register your Will on the Certainty Register as this will tell your relatives where your Will is stored when the time comes.
Contact us at A R K on 01438 746977 to get more information and help regarding making your Will or Lasting Power of Attorney.
Are you certain that if something happened to you, for example you had a serious accident, all your affairs would be in order – even if you lost mental capacity? Wouldn’t you like to be sure that your family would be able to access your bank accounts and deal with all your financial affairs without having to deal with any costly and lengthy court proceedings?
The only way to do that is to make a Financial LPA. People often don’t realise that even joint accounts would be frozen if mental capacity is lost, and partners would have no access to accounts unless there is an LPA in place. If you don’t have an LPA, then the only way of accessing money or selling property etc. is via the court. This takes months and ultimately could cost thousands of pounds. A simple LPA, costing just £175* for A R K to prepare for you, can save a lot of money, and perhaps more importantly, anguish for your loved ones.
What about health? The Finance LPA obviously covers all your financial affairs, but who would be able to speak on your behalf about health-related matters? Having an LPA for health in place means that if you weren’t well enough, your nominated Attorneys could speak to doctors and all other health care professionals on your behalf, as if they were you. They can also have the final say regarding life-sustaining treatment. You and your family can then be sure that your wishes would be respected.
What about a Will? Of course, everyone should have a Will, however it is particularly important in the following circumstances:
If you have children who are under 18. You need to appoint guardians in your Will, otherwise a court would decide who looks after your children should anything happen to you while they are young.
If you have a partner that you are not married to, then without a Will they are not going to inherit anything.
In these days of blended families with children and stepchildren, many people are not aware that stepchildren do not inherit anything unless there is a valid Will specifying that they should inherit. The only way to be certain that the people you would want to inherit your estate, actually do so, is to make a Will.
If you are separated but not divorced, your estranged husband or wife is still your next of kin in the eyes of the law, and therefore they could end up with everything unless you’ve made your wishes known by making a Will.
A Funeral Plan is the ultimate peace of mind for your family. There has been a lot of publicity recently about families ending up in debt because they can’t afford to pay for a loved one’s funeral. If you purchase a Funeral Plan now then whenever you die your funeral is paid for in full, and your wishes are also documented. A client of ours whose mum passed away recently said ‘I can’t believe how easy and stress-free everything was.’
One call to the Funeral Plan Company and everything is taken care of for your family. Anyone of any age can buy a Funeral Plan and prices start at £2,795. Our Dignity Plans currently have an offer of up to £340 discount on every plan. This great offer is running until April 2019. We also offer Safe Hands Funeral plans if you would prefer a Funeral Director who isn’t part of the Dignity Group. Your Funeral Plan Consultant will help you decide which plan would be best for you.
Don’t put off giving your loved ones peace of mind any longer! We understand that you may not be able to afford everything at once, so at A R K we can help you decide what is the priority for you. Make 2019 the year you get organised!
Remember we offer a clear and transparent pricing policy, and we’ll give you as much free advice as you need to help you take the worry out of those ‘what if’ situations.
Contact A R K now on 01438 746977 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to action one of your New Year’s Resolution. Probably one of the easier ones to achieve…
*An additional fee of £82 has to be paid to The Office of the Public Guardian in order to register an LPA for use.
Did you realise that you could use this time of year to make gifts which will reduce your liability to Inheritance Tax? We thought we’d prepare a little guide about what you can give away whilst still keeping the taxman happy…
A lot of people don’t realise that Inheritance Tax may have to be paid on their estate when they pass away. This can be 40% of everything over the tax-free threshold (currently set at £325,000). Given that the average price of a property in Hertfordshire is over £500,000 it’s easy to exceed those limits!
However there’s a simple way to reduce this liability, and help your family have an extra special Christmas at the same time.
Did you realise that you can give away £3,000 worth of gifts to your family and friends each tax year – this amount is immediately removed from the value of your estate?
You can also give as many small gifts of up to £250 to as many people as you want (as long as they haven’t also received part or all of the £3,000 mentioned above).
Additionally you can give gifts out of your income. For example, Christmas and Birthday presents – but you must be able to maintain your standard of living after making the gifts.
If any of your family or friends are getting married soon, don’t forget you can give a cash gift which immediately reduces the value of your estate for Inheritance Tax purposes. You can give your child up to £5,000, your grandchild up to £2,500 and you can gift anyone else who is getting married up to £1,000.
There are certain people and organisations you can make unlimited gifts to without paying Inheritance Tax. These include:
Your husband, wife or civil partner provided they live in the UK.
Charities registered in the UK.
Some national organisations like universities, museums and the National Trust.
Please note that new rules and thresholds regarding passing your property to your children were introduced in April 2016. If you would like more information regarding gifts or Inheritance Tax thresholds then visit www.gov.uk.
We hope that’s given you some food for thought…
If you can’t spend it yourself, the next best thing to do is to give away what you can to reduce the likely Inheritance tax bill on your estate. Why don’t you use this Christmas to help your family, friends and your favourite charities and reduce your Inheritance Tax liability at the same time?
You can of course make bigger gifts but then you have to live a certain period before the gift is treated as not belonging to you in it’s entirety (commonly known as the 7 year rule).
No one knows what their future holds; and in today’s world of blended families and ever-increasing care costs, it’s important to consider how you might protect your property after your death.
A simple Will stating what you want is not always enough to protect property inheritances for your family.
Most people who co-own their home with another person do so as joint owners. This means they both own the whole property. On the death of one of the joint owners, the home AUTOMATICALLY becomes the property of the survivor – they can then do what they want with it. This can, however, cause problems.
What if the survivor then re-marries? It is possible that the whole of the house will then pass to the new spouse on their death, thus disinheriting children of the first marriage. There are many recent examples of this happening where wealthy celebrities have died – the estates of both Paul Daniels and Bruce Forsyth received lots of publicity.
Another scenario is, what if the survivor has to go into a care home? As the property just has one owner, the Local Authority has the power to charge the cost of care against the value of the whole house – meaning that there would be nothing left for children to inherit.
What precautions can be taken to avoid this happening?
There is an answer to this problem. It is to change the way the home is owned whilst both owners are alive – from joint owners to Tenants in Common. This is a straightforward process that does not involve the mortgage company, even if the property is mortgaged. As Tenants in Common, each owner owns a share of the property (often a half share) and by using a Will Trust (a Life Interest Trust, also sometimes known as a Protective Property Trust), they can do whatever they wish with their share of the property on their death.
The idea of a Life Interest Trust is that you wouldn’t leave your share of your property to your partner – but you would leave them the right to live there until their death (or whatever date you specify). The survivor would not then own the whole property, just their half. This protects the 50% of the property owned by the person who has died, from possible care home fees or the new relationship scenario.
The survivor could only leave 50% of the property to their new partner. The 50% of the property belonging to the person who had died would be transferred into Trust, often for the benefit of children. The Trustees would then look after the 50% share of the person who had died, making sure the property is maintained and insured properly. If the survivor decides they would like to move out, they can do so as long as the Trustee agrees. If any monies are freed up by downsizing 50% belongs to the survivor, and they can also have access to the money belonging to the Trust fund if the Trustees agree.
There is also another simpler form of Trust that some people choose. It’s called a Right to Occupy Trust and these are commonly used where adult children live with their parents. This type of Trust gives the child still living at home the right to stay in the property after both parents die, without actually owning it. When the parents die he whole property is placed in Trust, often for all the children of the deceased – so when the Trust period ends the property can be sold, with the proceeds being shared between all the siblings.
Do be wary though, of taking any drastic action to avoid care costs. People sometimes think they can sell a house to a relative for a nominal fee, or even give it away, in order to transfer legal ownership. However, this could be seen as ‘deliberate deprivation’ and the sale could be reversed. Local authorities have the power to claim care costs from the person the assets were transferred to!
The local authority will ask about any previously owned assets, and take into account any reasons you’ve had to hand over assets or property to other people. They’ll consider timing, alongside any motive or intention, and also the fee.
As you can see, by making a few simple changes; sending a form to Land Registry (no fee applies for this) to change the ownership terms of your property and putting a Trust into your Will, you can protect your share of your property for your family.
It’s ALWAYS a good idea to arrange a pre-paid Funeral Plan, but in some circumstances it’s a REALLY good idea.
There are many circumstances that make it especially important to have a pre-paid Funeral Plan in place. For example:
• You may have children with specialist needs who would find it very difficult to cope with making your funeral arrangements.
• If you have very few or no living relatives then it will give you the peace of mind of knowing you’ll have the funeral you want. Plus, you avoid burdening your friends with your funeral costs and the second-guessing of your wishes.
• Maybe money is tight and you are concerned about your – or your spouse’s/partner’s – funeral would be paid for when one of you passes away? With both our Dignity and Safe Hands Funeral Plans you can pay for one plan and use it for the funeral of whoever passes away first. You can always take out a second plan later when you can afford it.
How Funeral Plans Can Help
We recently sold a Funeral Plan to a lady in her early forties. She owns a small business locally and is a single mum of a teenage daughter. Her own mum had sadly passed away a few months earlier, and she was very worried about how her young daughter would cope with all the arrangements, as well as the grief, if anything happened to her.
We were able to reassure her that if she arranged a pre-paid Funeral Plan then a single phone call would be the single action needed to arrange the funeral. It means that all her funeral wishes are now documented, and the funeral is paid for in full. She now has peace of mind that everything will be taken care of and her daughter will have one less thing to worry about. Hopefully it will be a very long time before the plan is needed, but that’s the best thing about having a pre-paid Funeral Plan – even if our client lives another 40 years her funeral will still be paid for in full. There’ll be no extra costs for her family, no matter how much the funeral costs will have increased by then.
A Sensitive, Friendly and Professional Approach
A R K specialises in dealing with more challenging situations. Our friendly approach and home visits are timed to suit you. Even if someone is unwell or has specialist needs then we can help them – whether this is with a Funeral Plan, a Will or a Lasting Power of Attorney.
Sometimes, a terminally ill person wants a Funeral Plan. This is obviously a very difficult situation for the person concerned and for their family. Recently, we helped a client who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. They had been told that they only had a very short time to live. By handling the situation in a sensitive manner and visiting at times when client felt well enough to talk to us, we could get everything arranged and finalised very quickly; so the client and his family had peace of mind and one less thing to worry about.
To give our customers more choice we now offer Dignity Funeral Plans alongside our existing Safe Hands plans. They are similar prices and you can choose from a range of options. Your A R K consultant will help you select the provider and plan that best suits your needs.
We carry out appointments in the privacy of your own home, or by telephone if you prefer. We can then offer you that same peace of mind that our existing clients have.
Please visit our Funeral Plan page for more detailed information or contact us on 01438 746977 or email email@example.com to discuss your requirements. We you offer our expert advice for free – with absolutely no pressure to buy.
All business owners should consider a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) as the final piece of the business protection jigsaw puzzle.
Have you considered what might happen to your business if you:
• lost your mental capacity through illness or injury?
• were stranded abroad because of delay or extreme weather conditions?
Who would take over the running of the business on your behalf to:
• sign contracts?
• pay salaries and suppliers?
• write cheque?
• make the important day-to-day decisions to keep the business going?
Even if your bank account is held jointly with your spouse, it can be frozen until a Deputyship Order is produced by the Court. Business accounts can also be frozen, even where these are held jointly in the names of business partners or directors. How would your business cope with no funds? Many businesses in these circumstances fail.
If you suddenly lose mental capacity and haven’t made a Business LPA, it may become necessary to make an application to the Court of Protection for the appointment of a deputy to act on your behalf. The process can be expensive, and there’s no guarantee that the Court of Protection will choose someone who you would have chosen. It could also take more than six months before a deputy is appointed, during which time your business may be vulnerable and at risk.
The Business LPA and lack of capacity…
Most businesses have a Key Person Insurance Policy and crisis management plans in place, but the issue of lack of capacity is often overlooked. You might think the options are obvious, but there is no automatic legal right to deal with another person’s financial affairs. Don’t assume that a family member or a business colleague will gain the authority to make these decisions on your behalf – this assumption could leave your business exposed to risk.
To protect your interests, and those of your business, you should consider making a Business LPA.
Having a Business LPA in place allows someone that you trust – someone who understands your business – to take over the day-to-day affairs as soon as they are needed. Your attorney might be given the power to pay suppliers and staff, access and manage bank accounts, invest assets, handle tax matters and enter into contracts. Of course, you can limit your attorney’s power, but you need to ensure that the company can continue to operate with any limits in place.
The aim of all business owners is to make their business a success and to provide for their families and their loved ones. You work very hard, commit time and money to your business and have employees and suppliers who are depending on you. You have families who need your financial support and security.
It is natural to hope you will never need a Lasting Power of Attorney but why take the chance?
A Business LPA should be an essential element of your business continuity plan, and the cost of setting one up is a small price to pay for the continuing success of the business you have worked so hard to build. It’s a one-off cost as well (as long as you don’t change your mind about who you have appointed as your attorney).
A Business LPA is a type of ‘insurance’ that all business owners should have, and it truly is the final piece of the business protection jigsaw puzzle!
Our fee to arrange a Business LPA for you (including registration of the document with the Office of the Public Guardian – so that is ready to be used immediately should it be necessary) is £175 (no VAT to pay). It’s a tax-deductible expense for your company, and the only additional fee to pay will be £82 to cover the Office of the Public Guardian fee.
Contact A.R.K. Lasting Powers & Wills today for a chat about how easy it is for us to assist you with making this document that could be vital for your business. It can be arranged at a face to face meeting, or by phone/email if you prefer. Call us on 01438 746977 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The answer to this question is that, sadly, you never know when you are going to need it.
A Funeral Plan is like an insurance policy which protects you against the rising costs of funerals. Unlike most other forms of insurance, you know that one day you will definitely benefit from having the policy. Hopefully a long time in the future, however we will all need a funeral one day.
A Funeral Plan gives you peace of mind and security, and support for your family when they most need it. Your money will pay for your funeral costs – whenever the time comes. The money held in the plan is guaranteed to cover the cost of your funeral, even if that is 50 years away. It is safely invested in an independent Trust Fund, until your family needs it.
At A.R.K. Lasting Powers & Wills, we regularly highlight the cost of the average funeral. We know about how these costs have increased hugely over the years; and how they will no doubt continue to rise at a similar rate. We always advise our clients that buying a Pre-Paid Funeral Plan is the equivalent of buying your funeral at today’s prices, as in, say 30 years, the average cost of a funeral could be around £30,000!!
How Funeral Plans can help…
A.R.K. consultant, Julie, recently lost a close friend to cancer. He was only 60 years old and sadly died in January this year, just a few short months after being diagnosed with this horrible disease. His funeral was a real example of how costs can mount up. Without any following cars, the final bill for his simple cremation service came to over £4,500.
If there had been a Safe Hands Funeral Plan in place it would have cost £3,355 for the equivalent funeral (even with one car following the hearse it would have only have been £3,595). Hindsight is a wonderful thing – and Julie’s friend did not expect to die at 60; so he didn’t have a Funeral Plan in place. If he had purchased a plan, his family would have saved money, stress and the need to make most of the arrangements. (These have been made automatically by the Funeral Director, following the instructions contained in the Funeral Plan.)
Peace of mind re your funeral cost and wishes…
Funeral costs will only continue to increase. Please do consider arranging a Funeral Plan sooner rather than later. You and your loved ones will have complete peace of mind, knowing that the costs are covered and will know what your wishes are.
Contact A.R.K. now on 01438 746977 to discuss your requirements or to arrange a no-obligation home visit. Alternatively you are welcome to email us: email@example.com. There is absolutely no pressure to buy, and you can even pay interest free over a 2 year period (a small handling charge will apply if you wish to pay over a longer period of time). There are no hidden costs and we will explain exactly what is covered in each of the different types of plan.
“What if”? That’s a phrase we use a lot when taking Will instructions or discussing Lasting Powers of Attorney with clients
We all hope those ‘What ifs’ will never happen to us; but for one poor lady who probably hadn’t even dreamt of this particular ‘what if’, the reality of the situation was pure torture!
This is Heather Bateman’s story in her own words – we defy you to read it and then not appreciate the need to make a Lasting Power of Attorney while you are young and well! It’s quite a long story but we make no apologies for that, as the words paint the picture regarding the difficulties she faced. You should also note that this happened 15 years ago, so all the costs mentioned will have increased significantly. The
system has changed too – in those days an Enduring Power of Attorney would have avoided all the problems, but Enduring Powers were replaced by Lasting Powers of Attorney on 1 st October 2007.
This story was featured on The One Show:
Heather Bateman had to run the family finances after an accident left her husband in a coma; and thanks to the Court of Protection, three years of pain and misery followed.
“I shake as a large white envelope slips through the letterbox. My trembling fingers pull at the flap. I’m a grown woman with a family. I have done nothing wrong, yet these letters make me feel like a criminal or a helpless child. The letters are from the Court of Protection.
Never heard of it? Lucky you. I hadn’t heard of it either until the moment when my whole life fell apart.
The nightmare begins In September 2003 my husband Michael walked across a quiet country road towards me and was hit by a car. He fell to the ground and never stood up or spoke a word again. In hospital he collapsed into a coma. The three-year nightmare began.
As well as experiencing the horror of seeing the energetic man I had loved for more than 30 years rendered immobile and lifeless, I had to deal with the everyday aspects of having a large family of two children, four stepchildren and six step-grandchildren. And I had to deal with the Court of Protection.
Michael and I were two independent working people. We had been married for 28 years. We had written our Wills, both our names were on the deeds of the house we shared in London and the Norfolk cottage we had renovated over the years.
We had separate bank accounts and most of the bills were paid from Michael’s account. Now, to continue living in the way we always had done, I needed to access the money in his account.
Filling out forms Michael had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. “You need to get the right forms,” the man at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau at the hospital told me. “Where do I get the forms?” I asked. “From a solicitor” he replied. “There are plenty of solicitors in Cambridge.”
I was in shock. I had witnessed the accident. I had seen the car knock Michael to the ground and I had held his hand and talked to him on the horrendous journey to the hospital. For as long as possible, I put off getting the forms. The solicitor’s office I chose was Dickensian. The clerk, almost as ancient as the decor, handed me some forms and said, “Fill these in and get your husband to sign here.”
I burst into tears, the first I had shed since the accident. And, once I started crying, I couldn’t stop. The clerk looked at me uncomprehendingly. “He can’t sign,” I sobbed. “He’s in a coma.”
“Then you need the Court of Protection,” he said. I heard those words for the first time, words that represent an institution everyone should know about.
Anger and grief The Court of Protection brought me almost as much anger, grief and frustration into my life as the accident itself. Over the years that followed Michael’s accident, I had to learn to accept a new reality, to settle into a different way of life. This I did gradually, lovingly, in my own way, feeling my energy and life-force change and keeping the family together.
But parallel to this I had to come to terms with the Court of Protection, an alien, intrusive, time-consuming and costly institution, which was completely out of tune with what we were going through. For almost three years it ruled my waking moments and my many sleepless nights.
We are advised to take out this insurance and that insurance but hardly anybody tells us to take out Enduring Power of Attorney*, which enables a person to appoint another to manage their financial affairs when they may be unable to act for themselves. Yet, in a case like ours, this is the only way to avoid the Court of Protection, also known as the Public Guardianship Office.
What is the Court of Protection? There are 55,000 clients registered with the Court of Protection, all so mentally incapacitated they are considered unable to act on their own behalf with regard to their finances. Because they have not granted Power of Attorney to anyone else, their affairs are placed under the jurisdiction of the court.
The court appoints a Receiver to act on the client’s behalf in the everyday running of his or her affairs, and the receiver is answerable to the Court.
I had to apply to become Michael’s Receiver, that is, I had to apply to the court to act on his behalf in carrying out the everyday financial matters of the life we had always lived.
To become his Receiver, I had to fill in complicated forms, detailing every aspect of our lives. I also had to give notice to my children and stepchildren of my application. A Receiver can be a close family member or – where there is no suitable relative – a stranger or an organisation, such as a solicitors’ office. But in its treatment of Receivers, the court does not distinguish between a close family member or a virtual stranger.
Who is the court protecting and from whom? As the weeks and months went by it became clear that the Court of Protection’s primary role was to protect my husband from me.
I was doing all I could to look after Michael and to keep our lives in some kind of order. The Court was doing everything possible to place itself like a wedge between him and me, in order to protect itself from any accusations of wrongdoing should he ever “wake up”.
To perform this unwanted task, the unwieldy organisation stepped into my life and took away my adult independence. The tone of the letters and the restrictions on how much and in what way our money could be spent undermined my freedom and self-respect. And if I did not do everything I was told to do, I could lose the right to be the Receiver. An unknown person could step in and take over our accounts and the running of our lives.
What does the Court of Protection do? Here are just a few examples of how the Court acted under the guise of “protecting” my husband: On the day the letter arrived confirming I had been appointed as Michael’s Official Receiver another letter arrived demanding instant payment of £460; it threw me into a state of shock.
Later, I was told this bill should have arrived a month later. However, this was just the first of many fees to be paid to the Court. They include a commencement fee (£240) and an appointment fee (£315), an administration fee (ranging from £190 to £240), an account fee (£100), various transaction fees (ranging from £60 to £540) and a winding-up fee (£290).
To deal with the forms and additional accounts, I needed the help of an accountant, whose fees also had to be paid. Over the course of two and a half years, more than £3,000 was used up on the Court of Protection.
As Michael’s Receiver I now had access to our accounts. But I was dismayed by the restrictions on my spending. I could write as many cheques as necessary up to £500. But if I needed to access more than that at any one time, I had to get permission from the Court – even to pay our daughter’s university fees and accommodation.
Similarly, when I needed building work done, I had to submit two estimates and justify my choice of builder; I then had to wait several weeks for the Court to give permission and release the funds.
Distressing experience The nerve-racking experience was exacerbated by the fact that each time I phoned the Court, I spoke to a different clerk. I had to explain my distressing situation anew and then wait at least two weeks for a reply. I visited Michael daily.
The court also sent a representative to visit him. I found it humiliating. I was dealing with doctors, nurses and carerson a daily basis, yet I could not help feeling that I was the one being checked up on.
But the most distressing incident concerned a strip of land in front of our Norfolk cottage. Before the accident, the local council had approached us to build a public footpath on it. The work was carried out while Michael was in a coma. But when it came to finalising the deeds and paying the agreed compensation, my role as Receiver was apparently insufficient. I was informed that the only way forward was to make someone else a trustee to the deeds of the cottage. The costs were almost equal to Michael’s share of the compensation.
I was furious. If it weren’t for the footpath, we would not have been in Norfolk that day and Michael would not have been hit by a car and would not now be in a coma. We had gone there to discuss the council’s plans.
Overwhelmed and intimidated by the Court, furious and exhausted, I eventually asked the council to keep the compensation money until Michael either died or recovered.
The Court of Protection, no doubt, has a part to play in the life of someone with no close family or friends, who is at the mercy of strangers. But in our case it was an interfering, terrifying body using legal forms and archaic language to protect itself at huge cost to us.
After almost three years, Michael died. When I eventually received probate, I cried with grief. A few months later, when I finally closed the Receiver’s account, and my independence and self-respect returned, I cried with joy. At last I was free.
Yet all this could have been avoided – if only I’d known how”.
Take a minute to let the horror of Heather’s story sink in … Do you get it now? … ‘We are advised to take out this insurance and that insurance but hardly anybody tells us to take out Enduring Power of Attorney’ *
Well at A.R.K. Lasting Powers Wills we do tell you, and we are telling you now! Call us on 01438 746977 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment to arrange a Lasting Power of Attorney to protect your loved ones from that dreaded ‘What if.’
All it will ‘cost’ you is £175 (plus an £82 court fee if you decide to register it for immediate use) and around 45 minutes of your time!
*Enduring Powers of Attorney were replaced by Lasting Powers on 1 st October 2007