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As we age and our lifespan increases, the chance that we become cognitively impaired also increase.
(Photo by Dierk Schaefer)

Two words – rivalry and abuse – an LPA (Lasting Power of Attorney) helps you to avoid these. Imagine you are single and own an HDB flat along with other assets. You have an accident, perhaps a fall where you injure your head and become mentally incapacitated. One of your children wants to care for you in your home, the other wants to sell your home and have you live in a facility. Once you are mentally unable to make decisions for yourself, where you end up, what happens to your flat, who has control over your finances, what type of care you receive and the lifestyle you live will depend on who you choose in your LPA. But if you didn’t make an LPA, either of your children could seek custody through the court. When there’s money or property involved or major disagreements regarding your care, it’s common for disputes to arise and it can get messy and ugly.

How is an LPA different from a will?
Wills come into effect when a person dies whereas LPAs take effect when a living person becomes mentally incapacitated (as assessed by a doctor). You may intend to leave certain assets to specific people upon your death, but these assets can be drained and spent long before you pass (and without you even knowing it). In an LPA, you appoint a trusted individual to make key decisions regarding your personal welfare, finances, property, and other affairs when you become unable to make these decisions yourself.

Do I really need one? How common are cases of mental incapacity?
According to a 3-year study by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), 10% of Singaporeans age 60 and above already have dementia. In a study by the American Psychological Association, over 20% of adults (or, 1 in 5 adults) aged 65 and above have a mental disorder. As we age and our lifespan increases, the chance that we become cognitively impaired also increase. But it’s not just older people who are at risk; regardless of age, anyone can lose his/her mental capacity. When you become cognitively impaired, you may forget to pay bills, forget to take your medications, or forget to turn off the stove, and be completely unaware of it. This can make you vulnerable and even become a danger to yourself.

What are the downsides to NOT having an LPA?
Basically, it comes down to choice, time and money. When you are mentally incapacitated, you no longer can choose who will have legal decision-making authority for you or your affairs. To gain this authority, your kin will need to apply to be appointed by the court as a deputy. This process can be quite lengthy and incurs legal costs, whereas the LPA takes effect automatically once you lose mental capacity. Without an LPA, the court may also appoint someone who you might not want to be your caregiver/guardian.

What is the process of making a LPA?
1. Download the LPA Form
2. Fill it out
3. Get it certified by an LPA certificate issuer (an accredited medical practitioner, practising lawyer, or psychiatrist)
4. Mail the LPA Form and other supporting documents.
Although not required, I would highly recommend attending a free workshop given by the Office of the Public Guardian (see here).

How much does it cost to make a LPA?
It’s FREE. Until 31 Aug, 2018, Singaporeans can have their $75 application fee waived (PRs and foreigners still have to pay the fee). To further ease the process, the Office of the Public Guardian has also simplified the form and reduced the number of pages. Although the LPA itself is free, as part of the process, you will have to get your LPA certified by an LPA certificate issuer. The cost of this will vary depending upon the issuer. As a point of reference, I visited a physician who charged $50 to certify my LPA.

Who should I choose as my proxy decision maker?
Most people choose their spouse, their children, their parents, or their close friends. You should choose someone you trust who understands your values, priorities, and goals, and will honour your wishes. You might want to name two people who must make decisions jointly as a checks-and-balances measure, but this might also lead to potential conflict. How ever many proxies you chose, the most important thing is that you discuss decision-making responsibilities with them sooner rather than later. Otherwise, they will not know your goals and wishes regarding medical, legal and financial decisions. It may also be good to put in writing any specific instructions you may want your proxy to remember.

What if my proxy fails me?
The courts can revoke an LPA if your proxy is convicted for dishonesty or fraud. It is also an offense for any caregiver to commit wilful neglect or ill-treatment. The proxy you choose also does not have powers over matters like marriage, divorce, abortion, religion, etc. Furthermore, the Office of the Public Guardian has recently amended the Mental Capacity Act to put even more safeguards and protections in place.

The Bottom Line: Making an LPA protects you. It’s nearly free, easy, and fast. The hard part is discussing quality-of-life and financial issues with whoever you deem to be trustworthy and capable of understanding your goals and wishes.

For more information, please visit the Office of the Public Guardian website.

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