You may not realise it, but a Lasting Power of Attorney is probably as important a document as a Will. Here’s why you need to create one…

It’s a good idea to set up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) now, while you’re in a position to do so, as it means the right people will be ready and willing to look after you and act in your best interests.

If you go on to lose mental capacity (which for someone with dementia, is a highly likely symptom), these people will be able to make decisions for you.

If you don’t set up an LPA before you lose mental capacity, then family members will need to go through the Court of Protection to appoint a deputy to manage your affairs – a process which can be decidedly more complex, long-winded and expensive. What’s more, it could mean a stranger (such as an accountant or lawyer), and not your loved one will have to make every decision for you. You cannot set up a Lasting Power of Attorney for someone if they have already lost mental capacity.

Who should have an LPA and why is it specifically important for dementia?

In an ideal world, everyone over the age of 18 would have set up Lasting Power of Attorney for themselves because potentially anyone could lose mental capacity at any point in their life, from getting ill or having an accident in their youth, to developing dementia as they get older.

Did you know? Research by SAGA found more than four in 10 Britons felt they were too young or healthy to need an LPA.

However, it’s particularly important in reference to dementia because loss of capacity is highly likely, so you know that eventually someone will have to start managing your affairs for you. A LPA gives them a legal opportunity to do this.

Other health conditions that you should set up an LPA after being diagnosed with include stroke, coma, delirium, concussion, severe mental health problems, neuro-disability/brain injury and alcohol and drug misuse.

It’s important to remember that just because you’re married or in a civil partnership with someone, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be able to deal with your partner’s bank accounts and pensions if they have lost capacity. You will have no authority to do this unless they have set up a LPA. The same goes for ‘next-of-kin’ – a phrase that the law does not recognise.

What happens if you don't make a Lasting Power of Attorney?

It’s not a legal requirement for everyone to make a LPA, but it’s definitely a good idea. If there is nobody with the legal authority to manage your affairs – for example accessing your bank account or selling your home – then the person who you would want to do this will need to apply to the Court of Protection.

This is a legal body set up through the Mental Capacity Act which makes decisions for people who are lacking mental capacity. The Court will appoint deputies – one for property and financial affairs and one for personal welfare – who will then make decisions for them.

Why you shouldn't wait too long when making an LPA

Dementia is a progressive condition but you can’t always know how slowly or quickly the rate of cognitive decline will be. Some people can maintain their mental capacity for many years after diagnosis, while others will decline much more quickly, sometimes in the space of a year. That’s why it’s a good idea to set up a LPA as soon as possible, even before you have the official diagnosis, as in the rush and stress of pre- and post-diagnosis life, with its many tests and meetings, it could be something that gets neglected.

Can you still set up a Lasting Power of Attorney if you have already been diagnosed with dementia?

Yes, so long as when you set up and sign the forms for the LPA, you are judged to have full mental capacity and to understand what you are signing. However, in order for this to be the case, you will need to get things moving IMMEDIATELY after you are diagnosed.

Need help filling out Lasting Power of Attorney documents? Unforgettable can help! We've created an online questionnaire to help you fill out your LPA and cover off any issues related specifically to dementia and the challenges it can present. Click here for more information.