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Online Powers of Attorney
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a document whereby you can appoint the person or people of your choice to make financial, or health and welfare decisions for you, should you become incapable of managing your own affairs. The government office that oversees issues relating to people who lack such capacity is the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).
In April 2013 the OPG launched a new online system enabling those wishing to make LPAs to produce their documents online. This development is part of the aim of the OPG to encourage everyone to prepare for a possible lack of mental capacity, and is part of the wider agenda of the Ministry of Justice to provide access to digital services. Since the launch of LPAs in 2007, the OPG has been consistently struggling to cope with the high levels of demand for its services and the demand is only increasing. In 2012-2013 229,000 LPAs were registered with the OPG, which is 46,000 more than the previous year and 79,000 more since 2010/2011. One-fifth of all LPAs which are submitted to the OPG for registration contain errors and have to be returned, resulting in significant delays for both the office and for the applicants.
In an attempt to ease the administrative burden placed on the OPG, an online tool is now available for those wishing to make LPAs. Essentially this allows users to create their own document online, although it does then have to be printed off and signed in the traditional way, and then sent off for registration which is the procedure which essentially finalises the legal process before the document can be used.
The OPG hopes that the inclusion of prompts and checks within the online system will reduce the large numbers of incorrectly completed applications.That said, while the system may weed out clerical errors which can cause problems, it does not identify technical errors of a legal nature which invalidate the power or which can otherwise cause a difficulty on registration.
Whilst the system may certainly appear to be user friendly in terms of producing a legal form and has a limited number of checks, it is purely a document production system. It is true that notes are available which provide a certain amount of guidance, however this in our experience is no substitute for proper advice from someone qualified and experienced in this area who will have seen problems and disputes arise where a document may have been completed properly but the terms of which may actually be unworkable or indeed inadvisable.
The other major concern of practitioners working in this area is whether encouraging people to prepare documentation themselves rather than asking a solicitor to do this for them may increase the prospect of abuse of elderly or otherwise vulnerable people who should be independently advised to protect them but also those looking after them.
Whilst therefore the efforts to improve the facilities to create documents, and to reduce errors are to be applauded, this is only part of the story. We provide the whole service in terms of producing the documentation and an advisory service in addition, or as standalone advice for those who may wish to create their own forms but who seek a professional opinion as to the most appropriate way of planning their affairs.