In a move to modernise the lasting powers of attorney (LPA) system, the government will make the LPA application process completely online.
However, The Law Society has raised concerns that vulnerable and disabled people could be detrimentally affected by the digitisation.
The government has promised the new online system will improve safeguards against fraud and abuse, as well as simplifying and speeding up the process. But the Law Society also put forward that the current digital system (which only covers part of the process and the rest paper) is “complicated and hard to use, even for those who are digitally literate” and will need to be relooked at so it’s expansion and modernisation is accessible.
What changes are coming into play? And what are the benefits and downsides?
For practitioners who may be appointed an LPA, or advising donors or their attorneys, it’s important they are aware of the changes to the process. Advisers will need to keep abreast of developments over the coming months, and although the government hasn’t presented how the new system will look, what we do know is that:
- There will be an updated identification checks to create a watertight verification process – the application will need official documents such as passports and driving licences. This could bolster protection against fraud and abuse.
- The online system will detect errors quicker, meaning there won’t be as long a wait for the LPA to be finally registered.
- The current registration waiting time of 20 weeks could be reduced, which is reassuring to donors, and potential attorneys who may need to make decisions on their behalf in the near future.
- The government will provide further guidance of the certificate provider’s role in confirming the donor understands the LPA.
- The government should recommend changes to the witnessing process within the digital system in due course.
- The paper-based system will remain – which is welcome for those who can’t access or use the online system.
Given the whole process will be adopted online, this will certainly make it easier for families and friends to be appointed as attorneys who could be living abroad from the donor. It will be easier to sign the forms without being in person. However, clarification is still needed as to how that would work with witnesses.
On the flipside, the dire consequences of getting it wrong will not be made obsolete by an online process. Individuals could still take advantage of vulnerable people, and arguably it could be easier through the online process (i.e. we only have to think about online wills as a case example). Some donors may feel they don’t need a solicitor if the LPA can be easily applied for online, or could be more likely to reach out to unregulated providers, perceiving they can make an application online anywhere which would make it valid. Additionally, without legal advice to help them through the form, they could be more likely to choose unsuitable attorneys, who don’t have their best interests at heart.
Responsibility must be placed on the government to educate potential donors about the new system, with Wills and probate practitioners support.
Iwona Durlak, family partner and co-founder of IMD Solicitors