HAVING worked as a solicitor for all of my adult life and seen what the law can do to protect people, I am convinced of the need for more of us to appoint a trusted person as their Attorney under Enduring Power of Attorney.
Safeguarding Ireland, which I am Chairperson of, has proposed a that State Scheme to encourage more adults to ‘plan ahead’ be initiated in Budget 2020.
Safeguarding Ireland is also calling for measures to encourage greater take up of Advance Healthcare Directives.
The reason for this is that more people ‘thinking ahead’ will help to reduce and prevent abuse of vulnerable adults — and save in the State social service costs. It also better upholds our rights and choices.
I believe that Government should introduce dedicated measures — working together with community- based organisations, Solicitors and GPs — and ringfence money in Budget 2020 to develop this.
First, let me explain these legal terms.
Appointing an Attorney under Enduring Power of Attorney means that people give legal and financial decision-making powers to a chosen person to make decisions for them for a time when they may lack decision-making capacity.
Putting in place an Advance Healthcare Directive means officially recording future healthcare preferences such as place of care, or treatment preferences for a time when one may lack decision- making capacity.
The need to for the State to act is informed by research, commissioned earlier this year by Safeguarding Ireland, which showed that just 6% of adults had appointed an Attorney under Enduring Power of Attorney, and just 8% had even discussed a preferred place of future care.
When people don’t have a trusted person to make decisions on their behalf, or care preferences clearly stated and they have a life-changing accident, become seriously ill, or frail due to age — they become reliant on the honesty and sound decision-making of friends and family.
In most cases people’s wishes are upheld with great care by loved ones.
However, it is estimated that up to 10% of people are dishonest in how they manage a vulnerable person’s money.
That is why ‘thinking ahead’ is important. It is to protect ourselves. It is also in the State’s interest, as it often ends up dealing with the problems after they emerge.
The State should provide financial supports for social organisations particularly those who work with older people and vulnerable adults, to promote greater take-up among their members — and pay a top up contribution to participating Solicitors who are registered for a Scheme.
There could also be a specific annual national awareness week, or day, when change is promoted.
In the case of Advance Healthcare Directives, GPs could be given a more a recognised role in working with patients to put in place a care plan for the future.
Planning ahead is particularly important is to protect vulnerable people against financial abuse. It is most likely to occur when no Enduring Power of Attorney is in place and, due to reduced capacity, a vulnerable adult is pressurised to sign over management of their finances to a next of kin, or organisation (an Agent).
While the vast majority of people are honest, it is estimated that up to 20% of Agents abuse this role.
In some cases, Agents or family members may not even recognise their wrong doing. For example, it may involve quietly spending a portion of a person’s pension as a perceived ‘reward’ for helping with their care, or occasionally keeping change to cover personal expenses.
So what can be done?
We need to move towards ‘thinking ahead’ being the norm in Ireland, particularly for those who are vulnerable but ultimately for all adults.
Cost is a major barrier to putting in place an Enduring Power of Attorney, as estimates are that it costs approximately from €400-€1000. Through incentives and resourcing the State can encourage greater take up.
We also need to stimulate greater promotion and take up of Advance Healthcare Directives so that, even if we lose capacity, decisions remain made by us rather than for us.
For more see www.safeguardingireland.org
Get in contact:
A dedicated support number has been established by the HSE National Safeguarding Office at (061) 461 358 which the public can call (within work hours) for advice and to get signposted to the most appropriate services.
The National Safeguarding Office works with nine HSE safeguarding teams across the country, including Cork city and county. The Cork Safeguarding Team can be contacted at Safeguarding.email@example.com / (021) 492 3967.
People can refer to the Think Ahead Guide which helps members of the public talk about and record their preferences in the event of emergency, serious illness or death. See www.thinkahead.ie Learn how to identify fraud and how to protect yourself at www.fraudsmart.ie.
Find out about safeguarding finances in the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland guide at www.bpfi.ie
ABOUT SAFEGUARDING IRELAND
Safeguarding Ireland brings together 30 national organisations from public services, legal and financial services, the health and social care professions, regulatory authorities and NGOs all working together to protect vulnerable adults. (Members include the HSE, HIQA, An Garda Shoshana, An Post, financial organisations and patient, disability and carer NGOs.)