22nd September 2015 at 11:20am
John Brewer continues his series of blogs, which look back at the issues he faced when supporting his parents. In his first blog ‘Investment of a very different kind’, John looked at the events and emotions in coming to terms with the declining health of elderly parents. His latest blog looks at the role of a power of attorney.
‘My parents were independent’
At retirement, my parents were independent and able to take care of their own affairs and enjoy a rewarding, fulfilling lifestyle.
They were great at planning – be that holidays or family gatherings. They developed a good support network; friends, family, a lawyer and stockbroker. They also had great foresight and took legal advice to at least think about what the future might hold and to do something about it there and then.
Around 1990, a power of attorney (POA) was written, signed and promptly put away with the other family papers. And then nothing. Nothing at all.
‘Managing finances was becoming difficult’
That was, until about 8 years ago when managing finances was becoming very, very difficult.
By now dad had been in and out of hospital and in care for 3 years. And mum was only just about able to live in the family home, but was struggling. I had sorted the paperwork and started to pay bills myself but this was tough going.
Paperwork was everywhere, red tape became the order of the day and my instructions to banks and building societies were being declined.
My parents didn’t have a valid passport, and so evidencing their identification was becoming almost impossible to manage. My solicitor reminded me about the POA, what it meant and how it could help. I started using it immediately.
‘It was time to take control’
I like to think I have a professional approach and attitude to managing my own finances.
It’s fair to say in operating the POA, I did initially feel quite uneasy about the whole thing. After all, this was another step in the shift of responsibilities from one generation to another.
At times I did find it difficult to think clearly- should I really be spending their money on hefty care bills and developing an income strategy for them? I was making investment decisions that could eventually result in selling the family home.
But the truth was of course yes, I did need to do this. It was time to take control, to do the right thing.
Actually, within a few weeks, I got in place a fairly slick process for managing their pension income, savings and paying bills. In fact I rather enjoyed it!
I was doing something constructive. I was taking that stress and worry away from mum and dad and from myself. It was a significant relief all round.
I was also reducing their exposure to some very obvious financial risk and I was in control. Bills, invoices and statements could be sent to me and I would settle things in good time. It created a sense of order.
But I do have a warning – not all financial services staff appreciate what an Attorney has power to do. And not all companies have processes to deal with POA instructions.
Institutions might be getting better as they recognise the growing demand, but standards are not universally high.
‘Great forward planning by my parents’
I was left reflecting – what great forward planning by my parents in 1990. And with such great intent; to make my life easier whilst helping them.
And they didn’t wait until it was all too late, when they could no longer handle their affairs. Their POA documents allowed me to take control when they and I needed it most.
Becoming an attorney was such a key tool in my survival kit for managing my parents’ later life.
It was the gift of control. But the story doesn’t stop there. Like me, you might aim to live a long and healthy life – but you’re never sure what your future health might be like – so I urge you to seize the moment and arrange for a power of attorney now.
It’s flexible, and it’s not an age-related need. Accident or illness can happen at any age and may trigger the need for others to manage your affairs. I’d recommend it to anyone – just do it, and file it and keep it safe for hopefully many years to come.
Join the conversation
Standard Life has a referral service, which can help you put a power of attorney in place. We’ve linked with a law firm in England and Wales, and also Scotland, to make it easier for you to take the next step.
These law firms offer a fixed fee service, to give you certainty over how much it will cost. If you’d like to use this service or request an Information Pack, call us on 0845 272 8848.