Many people have misunderstandings about lasting power of attorney, Which? finds

Some 85% of people said they know what a lasting power of attorney is, but many are confused about how it works, research suggests.

16 February 2022

Many people are confused about how lasting power of attorney works, according to Which?

Lasting power of attorney (LPA) is a legal document where one person gives another the power to make financial decisions on their behalf if they ever lose mental capacity.

But Which? said it is concerned to find many people have a poor understanding of how it works and why it is needed.

An LPA can only be registered while someone still has mental capacity – after that it is too late. But Which? found concerning evidence that many people do not know this.

It surveyed 2,000 people across the UK and found that nearly nine in 10 (85%) said they know what LPA is.

But one in six (16%) mistakenly think that someone loses access to their financial accounts once the legal document is registered.

Among those surveyed who do not have an LPA, seven in 10 (70%) said they were healthy so did not need one. Meanwhile, three quarters (77%) of people incorrectly thought an LPA could be set up at any time in life, suggesting they are at risk of putting it off until it is too late.

Which? also said its research has found over the years that attorneys encounter problems when registering with banks and other financial firms.

It said common issues reported for more than 8,000 of its members with a registered LPA were a lack of knowledge among staff (60%), complexities in the process (38%) and delays (28%).

Which? said it had heard from people who were asked to register in-branch during the Covid-19 pandemic, even at banks where online registration was an option.

Helen Morrissey, senior pensions and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “A lasting power of attorney (LPA) should be a huge source of comfort as we get older, but for far too many people, it’s a source of mistrust and confusion instead.

“Knowing you have someone you can trust to take decisions in your best interests in the event you are unwilling or unable to do so yourself can be very comforting not just for you but your wider family too. Unfortunately, we’re letting myths and misunderstandings confuse us into missing out on this vital bit of safeguarding.

“It’s important to bust key myths about LPAs. For instance, you do not hand over control of your affairs once an LPA has been registered – you remain in control and your attorneys must make all reasonable efforts to help you make decisions.

“Should a time come when decisions need to be made on your behalf, your attorneys need to demonstrate they are making decisions in your best interests and in line with your wishes. You can appoint more than one attorney if you want more visibility of decision making and attorneys can be removed if needed.”

A UK Finance spokesperson said: “The financial services industry has undertaken significant work to streamline the process for customers registering powers of attorney.

“Banks work hard to support their customers, however we recognise the challenges that some face and agree that the current legal process required to establish a lasting power of attorney (LPA) needs modernising.

“Banks have safeguarding mechanisms in place to protect their customers when an LPA is set up and the industry is working with the Ministry of Justice on its proposals to ensure the LPA process is as efficient as possible.”

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