Plans to overhaul the system for seeking Lasting Power of Attorney risk leaving vulnerable people open to abuse and fraud, a leading wills and probate lawyer has warned.
Tristan Lewis has responded to a government consultation on the changes, expressing his serious concerns about the dangers it poses to the people it is supposed to protect.
Mr Lewis, a senior associate at Shropshire law firm mfg Solicitors, said the government must ensure there are more safeguards in place before pressing ahead with any changes.
Lasting Power of Attorney allows someone to appoint a family member or friend to make decisions on their behalf, should they lose mental capacity.
Some of the Whitehall changes under consideration include moving applications from paper to online as well as using technology to either let people witness documents remotely or replace a witness altogether.
Mr Lewis said: “A lot of the discussion so far around these changes have been about how it’s an exercise in moving the application process online. According to the Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Public Guardian received 19 million sheets of paper in 2019/20 and we can certainly see how there would be advantages to an online process in speeding things up and making it user friendly and less stressful.
“However, the big problem is that this may also mean a move towards digital signatures, and that’s something that can be open to abuse and fraud. This is particularly a problem when handling something like Lasting Power of Attorney, which is all about ensuring that some of the most vulnerable people in our society are helped to handle their finances.
“We cannot accept a system that might make it easier for criminals to target our loved ones during the most vulnerable periods of their lives.”
Mr Lewis added that anyone considering applying for Lasting Power of Attorney really should consult a solicitor, who would be able to spot undue influence and abuse and provide elderly clients with advice about the best course of action for them.
mfg has offices across Worcestershire, Shropshire and central Birmingham.