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Choosing an attorney

Some people worry about whether they can be sure their attorney will act in their best interests but there are certain principles they must follow. 

Who should I choose as my attorney?

The role of an attorney involves a great deal of power and responsibility so it’s important you trust the person or people you choose.

It’s a good idea to give the person you ask time to think about the role, to make sure they feel comfortable doing it.

Your attorney could be a family member, a friend, your spouse, partner or civil partner. Alternatively they could be a professional, such as a solicitor.

Can I choose more than one attorney?

It can be a good idea to appoint more than one attorney – known as joint attorneys – but you must decide if they are to make decisions:

  • jointly – meaning they work together on all matters
  • jointly and severally – where they may act together or separately, as they choose.

You may want to specify that attorneys must act jointly for specific decisions, such as selling a house, but they can act jointly and severally for all other decisions.

You might also consider appointing replacement attorneys, in case something happens to one of your attorneys and they are unable to act on your behalf anymore.

Do I need to pay an attorney?

Your attorney can claim back any expenses they incur as part of the role – such as postage, travel costs or photocopying. They can claim these from your money, keeping an account of any expenses and relevant receipts.

However, they can’t claim for time spent carrying out their duties unless they are a professional attorney, such as a solicitor, who will charge fees.

How should my attorney act?

Some people worry about whether they can be sure their attorney will act in their best interests but there are certain principles they must follow.

Your attorney must follow certain principles to ensure you still make your own decisions as much as possible, and that they make the right decisions on your behalf if you can’t.

The principles are:

  • A presumption that you have mental capacity
    It must be assumed that you’re able to make your own decisions, unless it can be established that you can’t.
  • The right to be supported to make a decision
    You must be given as much practical help as possible to allow you to make your own decision before anyone decides you’re unable to. For example, you may be able to understand or communicate through the use of sign language or pictures, or perhaps you’re more relaxed at a certain time of the day and find it easier to make decisions then.
  • The right to make what appears to be unwise decisions
    You shouldn’t be treated as unable to make a decisions just because others believe it to be an unwise decision.
  • Any decisions made on your behalf to be made in your best interests
    Any decisions made or action taken on your behalf must be made in your best interests.
  • Any decisions made on your behalf to be the least restrictive option
    Anyone making decisions for you should consider all the options and choose the one that is the least restrictive of your rights and freedoms.

How can my attorney be sure they're acting in my best interests?

When making any decision, your attorney must:

  • Do everything possible to encourage you to participate
  • Consider your past and present feelings, especially any expression of your wishes you made, such as an advance statement
  • Consider any of your beliefs and values that could influence the decision
  • Talk to other people, such as your family, carers or friends, who know about your feelings, beliefs and values
  • Always remember your right to privacy and that it might not be appropriate to share information about you with everyone
  • Know about any exceptions, such as if you have made an advance decision to refuse medical treatment.

What can I do if my attorney is not acting in my best interests?

If you think your attorney or deputy is not making decisions in your best interests, there are a number of ways you can make a complaint.

  • If your complaint is a healthcare issue, your local NHS Complaints Advocacy service can support you when making a formal complaint. You can find out more from your local Healthwatch.
  • If your complaint is about social care, you could contact the local social services adult protection team to discuss your concerns.
  • If you think you’re in immediate danger, contact your local police force.

You can also raise your concerns anonymously with the Office of the Public Guardian. The OPG is responsible for monitoring attorneys and deputies and can investigate allegations of mistreatment or fraud. It can report concerns to another agency, such as the police or social services, if appropriate.

Further information


Last updated: Apr 18 2018

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