Powers of Attorney: Some Practical Points

The modern incarnation of the  power of attorney (PoA)  as provided by the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland)  Act 2000 has two separate functions. One is the traditional function of authorising a named person or persons to conduct business on behalf of   the person granting the  PoA.  Such business might include operating bank accounts, signing documents and cheques  and even selling residential property and holding funds on behalf of  the granter.

The second is a new function of authorising a named person or persons to  be concerned with  and even to make decisions in relation to the personal affairs  and health and welfare of the person granting the PoA.

When these provisions came into effect initially, there was considerable doubt as to  whether a family member or other trusted person  who had no particular expertise in health and welfare matters was an appropriate recipient of these new powers . However, this  facility  turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy. This was because of a growing tendency at places such as hospitals and care homes for personnel to insist on sight of a PoA before discussing a patient’s circumstances. It is somewhat typical of the modern retreat from trust in professional persons that greater reliance is now placed  upon  a statutory document such as a PoA.  Be that as it may, it appears that the appropriate advice now is that, along with writing a will, a client should also complete a PoA incorporating both of the above functions

In most cases the PoA is created to provide for the  appropriate authority to operate in the absence of the capacity, usually through ill-health, of the person granting the  PoA  to conduct his or her own affairs. In order for the PoA  to have that effect it must be registered at the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) which currently incurs a fee of £81.00.

Of course, the granter  may wish to be certain that the PoA  will not come into effect  while  he or she remains able  to conduct his or her own affairs. They may wish to consider the inclusion  of what are known as springing clauses, such as the certification of incapacity by a medical practitioner as a pre—condition of the  validity of the PoA. However, such clauses seem to me to be counter productive. In the first place, if a person  trusts their attorney  to act appropriately in the granter’s  incapacity then why should that attorney  not be trusted   not to abuse the  PoA while the granter retains  capacity ?  Secondly, it is often the case that when a PoA  is required, it is needed as a matter of urgency and the delay involved in convening an examination and obtaining certification may well frustrate the urgent operation of the PoA. Thirdly, any requirement to scrutinise documentation external to the PoA involves the making of a value judgement by the scrutiniser  as to whether that external document meets the requirements specified in the PoA.  Some  inconsequential inconsistency of the wording from one document to the other might be sufficient to persuade an overcautious official  to reject the PoA.  I have found  from practical experience of the operation of PoAs  that the document should ideally stand alone without any requirement for reference  to  additional, external documentation ie   no springing clauses.

Finally, many persons might see the PoA  as a legal document which should be drawn up on legal advice by a solicitor.  However, PoAs  do not fall within the ambit of work legally reserved to solicitors and there are now numerous agencies who undertake the preparation of PoAs  under guise of being lawyers or law firms but not as solicitors. Customers, we have found,  may nevertheless assume solicitor involvement.   We have even seen cases of such services being offered on the basis of non-Scottish legal provisions and at costs considerably in excess of normal solicitors’  charges. The one way to ensure that your PoA  shall be   drawn up under  Scots law and at a  standard ensured  by the  professional discipline,  the guarantee fund and the professional indemnity operated by the Scottish solicitors’  profession is to insist that whoever provides the  service is, in fact, a Scottish solicitor. It is a well  known adage of professional practice that a solicitor  should  know his or her client and it is equally advisable that the client should always know that he or she is dealing with a Scottish solicitor.