Blog updated July 2018.
Louise Southwell, Partner and elderly client specialist at Coodes Solicitors says that a recent Supreme Court hearing is a reminder of the importance of having a Health and Welfare LPA (Lasting Power of Attorney).
The Supreme Court is preparing to rule on whether it should be made easier to allow people in long-term vegetative states to die. Earlier in the year, the Supreme Court heard the Official Solicitor’s appeal against the principle that doctors can switch off life support, with the family’s agreement, without doctors having to refer to the Court of Protection.
This follows the case of an investment banker, who went into a persistent vegetative state following a heart attack. Doctors said that it was highly unlikely he would regain consciousness. He had not left any instructions as to what should happen to him in the case of sudden illness or severe brain damage. Despite this, his family reportedly said that he would not want to be “helpless and dependent on other people.” The man died while he was in a coma. However, the case was taken to the Supreme Court to try to address the fact that many families face the traumatic experience of going through the courts to obtain legal permission to end life support.
This case serves as a reminder of the important role of a health and welfare LPA in recording your wishes. An LPA is a powerful legal document that allows you to appoint one or more people to make important decisions on your behalf should you become incapable of doing so in the future.
More of us are setting up LPAs. According to official figures, the number increased by more than 180% in the last five years. In my experience, more people set up an LPA for Property and Financial Affairs and fewer see the benefit of the second type of LPA: a health and welfare LPA.
A Health and Welfare LPA not only covers your preferences for how you would be cared for if you became unable to look after yourself. It also sets out your wishes for whether or not you would want to receive life sustaining treatment if you end up in a vegetative state and are unlikely to make a recovery.
Having an LPA for Health and Welfare would empower your family to make the right decision for you should you become suddenly seriously ill. Sadly in the case that was heard at the Supreme Court this week, the man in question was only in his early 50s. This is a stark reminder that it is never too early to start discussing your wishes with your family and formally record them through an LPA. An alternative would be to set them out in Advanced Decisions, sometimes known as ‘living wills.’
Although take up is still low, more people are now coming to us to discuss a Health and Welfare LPA. Many people have strong feelings about what they would wish to happen if they became seriously ill and unable to recover. These are very personal issues. For some, length of life is the priority, while for others dignity and being pain-free is more important. People I have advised, who have lost family members in hospital, have found an LPA to be very useful and reassuring.
This is a very complex and emotive area of law. At what would be a very sad and difficult time, an LPA for Health and Welfare would empower your family and loved ones. It will leave them in no doubt as to what your wishes are.
For any Lasting Power of Attorney enquiries contact the Private Client Team at Coodes Solicitors on 0800 328 3282 or email@example.com