Power of Attorney
It's not easy to think about a time when you won't be able to make your own decisions, but it can help to be prepared.
What is a power of attorney?
A power of attorney is a legal document that allows someone to make decisions for you, or act on your behalf, if you’re no longer able to or if you no longer want to make your own decisions.
There are a number of reasons why you might need someone to make decisions for you or act on your behalf:
- This could just be a temporary situation: for example, if you are in hospital and need help with everyday things such as making sure bills are paid.
- Alternatively, you may need to make longer-term plans if, for example, you have been diagnosed with dementia and you may lose the mental capacity to make your own decisions in the future.
What is mental capacity?
Mental capacity means the ability to make or communicate specific decisions at the time they need to be made. To have mental capacity you must understand the decision you need to make, why you need to make it, and the likely outcome of your decision.
Some people will be able to make decisions about some things but not others. For example, they may be able to decide what to buy for dinner, but be unable to understand and arrange their home insurance. Alternatively, their ability to make decisions may change from day to day.
Needing more time to understand or communicate doesn’t mean you lack mental capacity. For example, having dementia does not necessarily mean that someone is unable to make any decisions for themselves. Where someone is having difficulty communicating a decision, an attempt should always be made to overcome those difficulties and help the person decide for themselves.
However, if there does come a time when you’re unable to make your own decisions, you will have lost mental capacity and someone else may need to make decisions for you.
These could be decisions about:
- finances - paying your mortgage, investing your savings or buying items you need
- health and care - what you should eat, or what type of medical treatment you should have.
Different types of power of attorney
It's important to be aware that there are different types of power of attorney and you may want to set up more than one. We'll explain:
Ordinary Power of Attorney
This covers decisions about your financial affairs and is valid while you have mental capacity. It is suitable if you need cover for a temporary period (hospital stay or holiday) or if you find it hard to get out, or you want someone to act for you.
Enduring Power of Attorney
An EPA covers decisions about your property and financial affairs, and it comes into effect if you lose mental capacity, or if you want someone to act on your behalf.
Don't assume if you’re married or in a civil partnership, you may have assumed that your spouse would automatically be able to deal with your bank account and pensions, and make decisions about your healthcare, if you lose the ability to do so. This is not the case. Without an EPA, they won’t have the authority.
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