One issue that is discussed regularly in estate planning is the timing for powers of attorney to commence operation.
In particular, often a donor will suggest that an attorney’s powers should not commence until some future date, for example ‘on loss of capacity’.
On a number of levels, we usually recommend immediate commencement of attorney powers where permitted by law (typically in relation to financial appointments). In some instances, powers are prohibited at law from commencing until the donor has lost capacity.
The reasons we recommend this approach include:
1. the likelihood the documents may need to be used in other scenarios (such as during overseas travel, or during periods of short term, relatively minor incapacity such as routine surgery) – the effectiveness of the document is significantly compromised if only triggered by ‘complete, absolute and permanent mental incapacity’
2. avoiding a debate as to exactly when the document has come into force – particularly in an emergency situation it can significantly undermine the utility of the document if there needs to be an analysis of whether a pre-condition to commencement has in fact been satisfied
3. as an easy rule of thumb test as to whether there should be (say) a co-attorney appointed – that is if there are concerns about the powers starting immediately this can often be at least partly due to concerns about the skills or trustworthiness of the persons nominated
4. there are a number of practical steps that can be taken to guard against inappropriate attorney conduct – for example, placing the original enduring powers of attorney in secured storage so that the attorneys are required to request copies before they can exercise their powers
5. another practical protection is ensuring that the appointed attorneys do not sign to accept their appointment until they need to rely on it - the powers under an enduring power of attorney cannot be used unless the appointed attorney has signed their acceptance
6. practically a further easy work around is appointing one or more additional co-attorneys – typically another family member, friend or trusted adviser to act jointly with the clients’ attorneys. This prevents a single ‘rogue’ attorney from acting inappropriately as all decisions would require two or more attorneys to act together
7. if there are still concerns about the attorneys acting inappropriately in light of the above points, the harsh reality is that this says more about the persons being considered than it does about the document commencing immediately – in other words the issue should be addressed by reconsidering who is being appointed to the role
8. indeed, if there remain concerns about the integrity of the nominated attorney acting inappropriately, there may be in fact be wider concerns that need to be addressed – such as the attorney acting inappropriately after the donor has lost capacity or even fraudulently creating documentation to allow themselves to act, regardless of the donor’s intention.
For a printable version of this information, refer to the attached flyer.