Who can help?
Whether you or a loved one has been told they have dementia, you’re going to need a lot of support. You’ll find plenty – from your hospital consultants and GP, to NHS guides and organisations like Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society.
A solicitor is probably furthest from your mind.
Receiving a diagnosis that mentally or physically incapacitates you doesn’t mean life has to grind to a halt. Legal support lets you stay in control, even when your body seems to fight against you. To prepare for the future, you’ll likely need two legal documents:
- A will
- A Power of Attorney,
- A Court of Protection Deputyship
With these in place, you’re able to get on with enjoying time with your loved ones without worrying about what happens if the worst happens.
Write a will
A will lets you choose what happens to your home and possessions when you pass away. You should write or update a will whenever you experience a significant change in circumstances, like receiving a major diagnosis.
Without one, your final wishes won’t be carried out. The courts will decide how your estate is divided and some loved ones aren’t guaranteed to inherit. You can learn more in ‘What happens if I die without making a will?’.
To make a will, you must be over 18 and have ‘testamentary capacity’. This means you must be able to make decisions for yourself and understand your actions.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with dementia, you can usually still write or update your will – but because of the uncertain nature of illnesses, it’s best to act quickly, while you still feel like you.
The NHS says ‘a solicitor can advise if this is the case.’ The government also notes that ‘someone who has lost the mental capacity to manage their finances may still have the ability to make a will. A solicitor will usually be able to tell you if they are.’
If your loved one can’t make or change a will themselves
If your loved one has lost mental capacity, you may still be able to draw up a new will or change an existing one. In certain circumstances, an attorney (usually a relative or close friend) can apply for a statutory will.
This is a long and complicated process.
The Court of Protection must approve any application, and you’ll need to show that getting one is in your loved one’s best interests. In most cases, a statutory will is treated the same as if the person needing the will wrote it themselves, but talk to a solicitor before applying, to get it right first time.
You and all other beneficiaries can agree and sign a deed of variation to change someone else’s will after they’ve passed away. You’ll need to do this within two years of a death.
Read: Wills & Probate FAQs
Using GP as witness for will
When you write your will, it must be signed by you and two witnesses at the same time. Without this, a will is legally invalid.
A doctor is a good choice of witness if you’re elderly, had an accident, or had a major medical diagnosis. Ask them if they will agree to this (but remember, a witness may not inherit in your will). You can find out more in ‘Who can witness a will in the UK?’.
If your will is later contested, your GP will testify that you knew what you were doing when you made your will.
Power of Attorney or Court of Protection Deputyship order
Depending on your circumstances, you should make a Power of Attorney or apply for a deputyship. Both let others help you make decisions in separate ways.
You can find out more in ‘What’s the difference between Power of Attorney and Court of Protection Deputyship?’
Lasting Power of Attorney
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) lets you give someone the legal right to help you make decisions and act on your behalf. An attorney is usually a relative or close friend who will act in your best interests when you can no longer look after yourself.
When facing an illness like dementia, you’ll likely want both types of LPA. The NHS advises to ‘talk to a solicitor, preferably one who specialises in this area.’
You can learn more in ‘The difference between financial and health Power of Attorneys’, but essentially:
- Your attorney can manage your money with a Property & financial affairs LPA.
- Your attorney can care for you day to day with a Health & welfare LPA.
You should make an LPA as soon as possible. Power of Attorney is not included in your will. But, like a will, you can only make one while you have mental capacity. With an LPA, an attorney can immediately and seamlessly begin acting on someone’s behalf when they lose capacity.
If a loved one is no longer able to make their own decisions, you will need to apply to the Court of Protection for a deputyship order. Once approved, you will gain the legal right to act on someone else’s behalf.
However, it costs quite a bit more than an LPA. The approval process is longer, leading to disruptions like not being able to pay someone’s rent or bills. You’re also more restricted in what you can do, with lots of paperwork and annual fees.
Starting a conversation
Dealing with dementia, or any other serious illness, can feel almost as difficult to talk about as it is to live with – but it’s a conversation worth having. For lots of tips on this, you can read ‘How to start the conversation about Power of Attorney’.
By openly discussing this undoubtedly tricky subject, you, your family, and friends can discuss what help you may need now and in future.
Together, you can select the best legal services and a professional that knows exactly what you need to get on with life. And it gives everyone peace of mind that, whatever happens, you’re covered.
Finally, strike up a conversation with a trusted legal professional.
Just a few quick questions and you can find and compare solicitors near you. The Law Superstore helps you get the right legal help at the right price – and tailored results means you’ll only connect with experts who really understand how to support you and your loved ones during this time.