The government has set out plans to reform lasting powers of attorney (LPA) as it seeks to modernise the legal framework around this.
A 12-week consultation has been launched by the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to gain input on the proposed measures.
Overall, the government is looking at ways to make LPA applications simpler and easier, while assessing how rejection due to avoidable errors can be reduced. This includes shifting LPA applications to a predominantly digital service to improve the speed and access of applications.
“More people are taking the vital step to plan for the future by applying for LPAs, and we want to make sure that it is as safe and simple as possible to do so,” said Nick Goodwin, public guardian for England and Wales.
“This consultation puts forward proposals which will allow us to make the service fit for the modern world – one that can be accessed online, and which grants OPG the power to conduct thorough checks to protect against fraud while making it easier for people to raise concerns.”
These new powers will include identity checks and the ability to stop, or delay, any registrations that raise concern.
The process will also be examined to make it easier for people to object to an LPA registration in cases of potential abuse of exploitation. How witnessing works, and if remote witnessing is desirable, will also be evaluated.
The number of LPAs has increased to more than five million in the past few years and Rachael Griffin, tax and financial planning expert at Quilter, welcomes reforms that modernise these systems.
“The pandemic had a huge impact on the number of LPAs being registered and it appears to be a slow march back to what we would consider pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “It does remain a concern should we not get back to those pre-pandemic levels as this will mean numerous families are being left exposed to dangers that are becoming increasingly sophisticated and harder to spot.
“It is hoped the OPG has used the pandemic to look at where the process can be streamlined and made easier so people can get an LPA in place with minimal fuss as having one can make a huge difference to someone’s finances.
“These changes must also include raising awareness with the public at large. Far too few people are aware of LPAs and their benefits, so any overhaul must seek to improve knowledge of them and how to go about attaining one.”
Canada Life technical manager Kim Jarvis said the consultation was a “real step in the right direction”.
“The number of registered lasting powers of attorney (LPA) has increased drastically in recent years to more than five million, but the process of making one retains many paper-based features that are over 30 years old. This is already an unsustainable process in today’s society and will become increasingly outdated in years to come.
“Currently, there is a delay of about 12 weeks for people to get LPAs registered and this consultation will assess the possibility of creating a digital fast track service for families who need to quickly set up an LPA for a relative who has suffered a sudden change in their health. It will also look at making the process of objecting to an LPA simpler, as well as introducing new safeguards to protect against fraud and abuse,” she said.
Adding: “Lasting powers of attorney create a peace of mind around the safety and security of family finances. Just like creating a will or nominating a next of kin, LPA’s should be viewed as an integral part of long-term planning.”