Enduring power of attorney

An Enduring power of attorney (EPA) is a way of legally giving another person (your attorney) or people the ability to make decisions about your property and finances on your behalf, if you have lost the capacity to do so.

You can give your attorney different powers, depending on what you want them to be able to do. These powers can be general or limited to certain aspects of your property and finances, for example you might allow your attorney to manage your bank account but not your house.

You must have what is called ‘mental capacity’ to make an EPA. This means that you must be able to understand what an EPA is and what making one means. You can cancel or amend the EPA at any time, while you still have mental capacity.

A loss of capacity, either mental or physical, can affect anyone, at any age, and could be the result of a serious accident, a brain injury, heart disease, stroke or dementia. Without adequate planning in place, it can be difficult and costly for others to make decisions when a person loses capacity.

Many people assume that their spouse or civil partner would legally be able to deal with their finances, if they lost the ability to do so. This is not the case, which is one of the reasons why having an EPA in place is so important.

In the event that you do lose capacity, your attorney must register the EPA with the Office of Care and Protection (OCP) www.nidirect.gov.uk/contacts/office-care-and-protection, which is part of the court system in Northern Ireland.

If you don’t make an EPA, and later become unable to make certain decisions for yourself, there may come a time when no one can legally make those decisions for you. This can make paying bills or care costs very difficult. The OCP would then have to appoint someone to act as a controller, which is a much more restrictive, time-consuming and expensive process than an EPA.

Making an EPA now will make things easier for the people close to you in future. You don’t have to use a solicitor for this, but it can be difficult to make an EPA on your own and it is important to have proper independent legal advice on the powers that you want to give to your attorney. The Law Society of Northern Ireland www.lawsoc-ni.org/solicitors can help you find a solicitor, if you do not already have one.

Please note that this article relates solely to the system in Northern Ireland. Different legal systems apply to England & Wales, and to Scotland.

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