What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney gives legal power to one or more people, your ‘attorneys’, to help you make decisions or make decisions on your behalf.

There are two types:

  • Ordinary power of attorney – if you want to give someone the authority to make decisions or take actions about your finances while you still have mental capacity
  • Lasting power of attorney – if you want to give someone the authority to make decisions about your finances and/or health and care if you lose mental capacity

What is mental capacity?

Mental capacity means having the ability to understand, retain and use information in order to make and express decision about your life. If you have difficulties communicating, attempts should be made to overcome those difficulties.

A decision about whether or not someone has mental capacity can be made by a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, speech and language therapist or occupational therapist.

There could be lots of reasons for not having mental capacity, including:

  • being unconscious as a result of an accident or illness
  • suffering a stroke
  • having a degenerative disease
  • having later-stage dementia

Loss of mental capacity isn’t always permanent. It could be temporary or change over time.

The Mental Capacity Act of 2005 sets out how people who lack mental capacity should be protected and treated.

Choosing an attorney

Your attorney can be given complete authority over your financial and personal affairs so you should choose someone you trust to make decisions in your best interests. It could be:

  • your partner or spouse
  • a family member
  • a friend
  • a professional, such as a solicitor

You can choose more than one attorney. You will have to specify whether they can make decisions on their own or if they must all agree.

Ordinary power of attorney

You can set up an ordinary power of attorney if you need someone to act for you for a temporary period. It is only valid if you have mental capacity. 

An ordinary power of attorney can be useful if you:

  • are going into hospital
  • are ill
  • find it difficult to go out

You can let your attorney deal with all your finances and property or you can restrict them to specific powers. For example, you could allow them to:

  • have access to your bank account
  • sign cheques and make payments for you
  • sell your property on your behalf

There is a standard wording for an ordinary power of attorney so you need to get advice from a solicitor or ask a legal adviser at Citizens Advice to help you.  You can contact The Law Society to find a solicitor.

To end an ordinary power of attorney, you need to issue a deed of revocation.


Next steps

To find out more about power of attorney contact the Office of the Public Guardian: gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-the-public-guardian

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