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Choosing a power of attorney

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Choose the right document

A power of attorney (POA) is, generally speaking, a document that gives another person (called your 'attorney') the authority to act on your behalf. There are different types of POA:

  • General power of attorney
  • Lasting power of attorney (LPA)
  • Enduring power of attorney (EPA)

This article will help you to decide which of these is best suited to your needs.

The POAs discussed here are only for use in England and Wales. See the articles on choosing a POA for use in Northern Ireland (Choosing a power of attorney) and Scotland (Choosing a power of attorney) if you live there.

Initial questions

The first issue to decide is whether you want the POA to be valid only while you have the mental capacity to make your own decisions, or whether you want it to remain valid after that point.

You may lose your mental capacity due to factors such as illness, an accident or the onset of conditions like dementia. Your relatives will not automatically have the authority to take control of your affairs and act on your behalf. They can only do so if you have appointed them as your attorney(s) in an appropriate POA that you created while you were still of sound mind.

If you do not want the POA to remain valid in the event that you lose the capacity to act on your own behalf, then you will need a general power of attorney.

If you do want the POA to remain valid in the event that you lose the capacity to act on your own behalf, then you will need an LPA. The LPA gives you the opportunity to decide in advance who will act on your behalf should you become mentally incapable of doing so yourself. The LPA superseded the EPA, which had a similar purpose.

General power of attorney

This document is also known as an ordinary power of attorney.

A general power of attorney cannot be used after the person who made it (the 'donor') has lost the capacity to make his or her own decisions. This type of POA is intended for use over a limited period of time - for example, if you will be out of the country and you need another person to look after your affairs during that time.

For more information, read the article on General power of attorney.

Lasting powers of attorney

A Lasting power of attorney will remain valid if you have lost the capacity to act on your own behalf. However, the attorney(s) to be appointed in the LPA will not have the authority to act on your behalf unless the LPA is registered with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

You may need this type of power if, for example, you are in the early stages of Alzheimer's and you want to ensure that you and all your interests are looked after by a person whom you know and trust. There are two types of LPA, each designed to provide for a particular need.

Property and financial affairs

The 'Lasting power of attorney – property and financial affairs' (LPA-PA) document will give the person(s) you appoint as your attorney(s) the power to act on your behalf in all matters relating to your finances and property.

Your attorney(s) may take any lawful action on your behalf, subject to any restrictions you place on them in the LPA-PA and certain statutory imposed restrictions, as if it were you taking those actions. This may include things such as: paying bills, renting, letting, buying and selling property and dealing with your bank accounts and investments.

Health and welfare

The 'Lasting power of attorney – health and welfare' (LPA-HW) authorises your attorneys to make decisions for you relating to your social, welfare and health care needs. Subject to any restrictions you place on your attorneys in your LPA-HW, they will be able to decide what medical care and treatment you should receive, where you should live and what social activities you should participate in.

Two separate documents

The LPA-PA and the LPA-HW are two separate documents that are used independently of each other. You could have the one without the other, but because your property and financial affairs are usually closely linked with your health and welfare provision, you should consider creating both powers of attorney at the same time.

Enduring powers of attorney

Since 1 October 2007, Enduring powers of attorney have been replaced by LPAs. However, EPAs created and executed before this date may still be valid and may still be registered with the OPG.

The attorneys appointed by the EPA will have full authority to act on behalf of the donor as soon as it has been duly executed. However, this will only be the case for so long as the donor has full mental capacity. The EPA must be registered with the OPG if it is to remain valid after the donor has lost the mental capacity to make his or her own decisions.