Despite widespread use, the phrase next of kin, meaning your most immediate family member, is not a legally recognised term. If you really want to guarantee a loved one having the right to make health or financial decisions on your behalf, what you’ll need is a Lasting Power of Attorney or LPA.
An LPA is a legal document giving a named person the ability to make decisions on an individual’s behalf when they can no longer do so themselves. Once in place, decisions can be made by people you trust, whether they be friends, family members or professionals, rather than the decision being taken out of your hands. Here are a few examples of why LPAs are so important.
Myth: If anything happens to me and a decision needs to be made, my next of kin has the right to act on my behalf.
Truth: Family members, no matter how close, have no automatic right to make decisions for you. Without an LPA, they will find it difficult to ensure your wishes are carried out and in certain circumstances may even need to apply to the Court of Protection to be appointed as your deputy. This can be a long and costly process, and there's no guarantee it will be granted.
Myth: If I make my spouse a joint holder of my bank account, they can look after my finances if I lose mental capacity.
Truth: It’s common practice for banks to freeze accounts if one of the account holders loses mental capacity. Previously authorised payments may be allowed, but again this isn’t guaranteed.
Myth: If I make an LPA, I’ll immediately lose control of my finances.
Truth: Your attorneys can only act if you instruct them (when you’re physically frail) or if you are not able to due to mental incapacity. What’s more, they need to stick to the rules of the Mental Capacity Act, which is designed to protect your rights.
Few people want to dwell on what would happen if they could no longer manage their affairs, but who wants a complete stranger making decisions about their future? An LPA is one document that makes a huge difference.
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