Scottish families are being urged to act now to protect elderly parents and relatives in the face of concerns about a rising numbers of dementia cases and other life-limiting conditions associated with old age.
Edinburgh-based family law firm Gibson Kerr is recommending families to secure control over aging relatives’ affairs now to make sure they can help them if they become ill in their final years.
With Scotland’s rising elderly population, planning for older life – and planning for elderly dependents – has never been more important. The number of over 65s is expected to rise by 21% on 2006 levels by 2016. By 2031 it will have risen by 62% and in 2031 the 85-plus age group will have risen by 144%.
This is expected to create a range of social care problems for Scotland – for example, 69,500 Scots currently have dementia, but Alzheimer Scotland expects the number to rise to 127,000 by 2031.
Gibson Kerr is advising those with ageing parents and relatives seek Power of Attorney (POA) over their affairs – both in terms of welfare or financial needs – in the event that they became incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves.
Legal advice from Gibson Kerr
Partner Fiona Rasmusen said: “Dementia is a big worry for clients coming to us now, but in reality there are numerous ways that someone could be left unable to make their own decisions.
“If someone has been granted Power of Attorney, they will be able to deal with anything from paying the person’s bills to dealing with their welfare issues like arranging medical treatment or helping them move into a care home if they need to.
“If this has not been pre-arranged, families are not able to step in to help in the same way. If a person becomes incapacitated families will not have access to their loved one’s confidential information or any decision-making clout.
“It can be a very complicated and expensive process to get the necessary authority to help if a person has already become medically or mentally unable to grant these powers. Families may have to go to court to secure guardianship or an intervention order.
“It can be devastating for a family to be unable to help a loved one set their business and personal life in order because they have not pre-arranged to have that legal right.
“If financial Power of Attorney has not been granted there may even be difficulties managing jointly owned property or money held in joint accounts.”
PR in Scotland for legal expert
A spokeswoman for Alzheimer’s Scotland said: “We advise families to get together and plan for these things rather than waiting for the diagnosis or onset of dementia.
“It can get very complicated to decide how to manage a person’s affairs if no plans have been made – the family can feel very guilty if their relative has not told them what they would want to happen before they got ill.”
Those registering POA with the Office of the Public Guardian in Scotland has risen from 5,592 in 2001to 30,737 in 2008. People can tailor a personalised POA agreement to grant different powers with the help of a solicitor. This allows them to retain certain powers while ensuring someone else can step in to help with their welfare or financial matters, or both.
And new statistics from the Care Commission present a clear need for families to take firm control of older people’s welfare.
Abuse and neglect complaints about treatment in care homes (from 2004-5 to 2008-09) were up 60% to 275. Since 2004 the Care Commission has recorded 1529 abuse and neglect complaints against care homes for adults, more than 800 of which were upheld.
Fiona added: “Several clients have told us that having the welfare Power of Attorney in place has been extremely helpful to them when dealing with social services or doctors on behalf of their parent. They have found that having the official powers put them on a much stronger footing to say what would be best for their parent in terms of where they should live and what medical treatment they should get.
“Anyone could get hit by a bus tomorrow and be left unable to make decisions about their own welfare or financial affairs.
“But in reality, the ones who really need to be thinking about this now are older people and their families who can foresee a time when they may not mentally be able to deal with things themselves. Then they need to know that someone they trust can step in and deal with things for them.”