Caring for elderly relatives from a distance: Legal and practical steps for assignees

In an increasingly competitive and international economy, it is more and more usual to seek new opportunities abroad. However, the lure of exciting new prospects and a better quality of life will invariably weigh against concern for those left behind – not just friends and familiar faces, but also parents and other relatives.

In an increasingly competitive and international economy, it is more and more usual to seek new opportunities abroad. However, the lure of exciting new prospects and a better quality of life will invariably weigh against concern for those left behind – not just friends and familiar faces, but also parents and other relatives.While it may no longer be possible to call in and check up on elderly parents, there are steps that can be taken to give them the support they need and their far-flung children the reassurance they need. Victoria Ward, solicitor at Thomson Snell & Passmore, explains.Radical advances in medicine and healthcare over the past century have resulted in an increasingly ageing population. In 2010, according to the Office for National Statistics, 17 per cent of the population was over the age of 65, and a staggering 1.4 million people were aged 85 years and over. Caring for older relatives is therefore a growing cause for concern, particularly amongst assignees embarking on a major relocation. However, assignees can take certain legal and practical steps to ensure that their elderly relatives continue to receive support after the relocation.
For example, some employees may already assist their elderly relatives informally with the management of their finances, property, health or care arrangements. Once the employee has moved away, it may be more difficult for them to provide such assistance without formal authority. Alternatively, it may be that the relocation is long term, and whilst the elderly relative is capable of managing their own affairs for the time being, the assignee is concerned that they, or another family member, may need to provide some assistance at a later stage.
In such instances, the elderly relative may wish to consider creating a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), which will provide another person with the authority to act on his (or her) behalf in the event he is unable to do so because he lacks mental capacity. Assignees should note that an elderly relative will only be able to create an LPA if they have the capacity to do so. Thus, planning ahead is vital. Not only is the LPA in place long before it is needed, but its preparation allows the family, as a whole, to discuss how decisions will be taken if the relative becomes unable to make decisions in person.
There are two types of LPA, Health and Welfare and Property and Affairs. Health and Welfare LPAs enable attorneys to make decisions such as where the donor (the person making the LPA) should live, their day-to-day care and consenting to, or refusing, medical treatment on the donor’s behalf. Property and Affairs LPAs enable attorneys to make decisions such as buying and selling property, closing, opening or operating bank accounts, claiming benefits and providing access to the donor’s financial information. The donor may choose to make just one type of LPA, or both.
A donor can appoint more than one attorney under an LPA. If the elderly relative wishes to make an LPA appointing the assignee as their attorney, it may therefore be desirable to appoint a second attorney who lives close by – for example, a local family member, a trusted friend, or a professional attorney. Provided the attorneys are appointed to act jointly and severally (rather than jointly), one attorney will be able to make a decision without the other. This could be an advantageous if, for example, the assignee is unable to sign relevant forms or documents due to his geographical location.
It is important for assignees and their elderly relatives to note that LPAs are only effective once registered with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). It is therefore advisable for the donor to register the LPA immediately, so that their attorney(s) can act without hesitation in the event of an emergency or the donor suddenly becomes incapable. The OPG charges a registration fee of £130. Prior to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, donors could only create Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPAs). Whilst EPAs can no longer be created, existing EPAs are still valid and can still be registered. The assignee should therefore ask their relative if they already have an EPA which may require registration.
If an assignee has an elderly relative who has capacity to make an LPA and wishes to do so, the relative should approach a solicitor for further advice. If an employee relocates, and their elderly relative subsequently loses capacity but has not created an LPA, it will be necessary to make an application to the Court of Protection for a Deputy to be appointed. It is therefore advisable for an elderly relative to have an LPA in place so that they can make a choice about who should look after their affairs in the event they lose capacity. The Court can appoint a family member, or a professional such as a solicitor, to be a Deputy. In the event an elderly relative loses capacity, assignees should be advised to take legal advice as soon as possible.
There are also practical steps that assignees may wish to consider taking to ensure their elderly relatives are well cared for after they relocate. These include:
  • Making use of technology – The internet can be used to perform some tasks for elderly relatives from a distance – for example, online banking, transferring funds electronically, and grocery and clothes shopping. If assignees are relocating further afield, elderly relatives may find it useful to know how to use Skype or email
  • Setting up standing orders and direct debits – This can take the stress out of paying bills or regular outgoings
  • Calling upon others for assistance – Assignees should inform their elderly relative’s neighbours, friends and other family of their relocation, and if appropriate ask them to check up on their relative from time to time. Assignees should leave their contact details in the event of an emergency, and consider whether private care agencies or social services may be able to provide assistance with day-to-day tasks or care
  • Assessing current living arrangements – Those assignees with elderly relatives who struggle with their health or mobility and live on their own may wish to consider whether a care home or live-in carer is appropriate. The assignee should research the options thoroughly and talk them through with their relative. A solicitor can provide advice on whether any funding is available from the NHS or the local authority, and also the availability of any benefits
HR should advise assignees to consider the needs of elderly relatives they are leaving behind, and ensure that any necessary legal or practical steps are taken in advance of relocation.