Older and vulnerable people may be left at risk by proposals to digitalise powers of attorney
Jenny Pierce, Wards Solicitors Head of Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity, has expressed concern about a new proposal to scrap the need for a paper and pen signature when registering a power of attorney amid calls to turn the process fully digital.
A Lasting Power of Attorney is a powerful legal document which allows a person to appoint trusted individuals to make important decisions about their finances and property on their behalf. Under the current process, a 'wet signature' - the physical signing of the document - is required by individuals who wish to register an LPA.
Paper and pen signature would be scrapped
Recently, The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has called for the Office of the Public Guardian, the public body which processes LPA applications, to allow people to fill in online forms which would no longer require an actual signature.
But Solicitors for the Elderly, of which Jenny is regional co-ordinator for Bristol and Bath, believes this could lead to a drastic increase in cases of financial abuse.
Risk of fraud and financial abuse
Jenny said: "We are extremely concerned by the FCA's push for fully digital powers of attorney. Although we welcome initiatives that make LPAs more accessible, the security of older and vulnerable people is paramount. Under the current system, the FCA's vision of a secure, end-to-end digital LPA registration process is simply not possible.
"Removing the requirement of a wet signature has the potential to put thousands of people at risk of fraud and financial abuse. An LPA requires the understanding and consent of the donor, but without the witnessing of a physical signature, what is to stop a family member or friend registering a document on someone else's behalf, perhaps even without their knowledge?
"LPAs are extremely powerful and complex documents, and the prospect of being able to take control of someone else's bank account and even their property with the few clicks of a button is frankly reckless."
Solicitors for the Elderly is an independent, national organisation of over 1,500 lawyers, such as solicitors, barristers, and chartered legal executives, who provide specialist legal advice for older and vulnerable people and their families. Last year, the organisation released a report raising concerns around the current online system for LPAs, which it claims already leaves older and vulnerable people open to abuse.
The Office of the Public Guardian previously considered changing the LPA application process as part of a gradual move to take all its processes online.
For help and information about LPAs please contact Wards Solicitors' Wills and Mental Capacity team.