Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
It never ceases to amaze me that so few of us plan ahead for adverse family events. It is difficult to get statistics but we think about 60% of adults haven’t made wills, probably about 90% haven’t done a power of attorney and possibly as few as 1% have completed an advance directive or “living will” stating what medical treatment they would wish or not wish in the last stages of a terminal illness. And yet, when I speak to older peoples’ clubs and groups about family care – almost everyone I speak to has clear views about what they would want done with their property after their death, what they would like to happen should they become unable to look after themselves and how they would like to be treated in the last stages of a serious illness. So it is a bit odd that these clearly expressed views are not translated into getting the legal documents in place to ensure these wishes are followed.
I try to encourage everyone to make these views clear and to take the basic legal steps they need to take, to ensure that family and loved ones better survive the adverse effects that death and serious illness bring to a family. It really is simple – a couple of visits to a lawyer will be enough to get in place a power of attorney, a will and an advance directive – three vital “family care” documents all individuals should complete. Very simply appointing someone to be your attorney by completing a power of attorney assures if you lose legal capacity through illness someone has legal authority to look after your affairs. Without a power of attorney a guardian would have to be appointed in a court action which really should be avoided at all costs because of the stress and expense involved – the last thing any family needs when one family member has been struck down by serious illness. Making a will ensures your property goes where you want it to go – not where the state says – which might not be what many people want. For example, many folk don’t believe that a surviving spouse may not automatically inherit the family home – but that is the true legal position where there is no will. Finally, an advance directive is a written instruction to your doctors and carers as to how you want to be treated in the last stages of an illness – when you are unable to communicate. Spelling out your wishes to your family in advance like this gives them the confidence to make “end of life” medical decisions in accordance with your wishes – and spares family members the worry and possible guilt of perhaps feeling they had made a decision you might not have wanted.
It is just not difficult or expensive to get these documents in place. And perhaps the best news is that probably about 70% of Scottish pensioners qualify for “Legal Advice and Assistance” which means they can get these documents done either free or at a subsidised cost. That scheme can be easily accessed by people of pension age – in fact a telephone assessment can be done in minutes – so clients will know right from the outset whether they can get the work done free or at a reduced cost.
So please don’t put off decisions – get these basic family care documents in place. Phone 01506 815900 for a legal aid assessment – it really is easy.