We face a pensions crisis, our NHS is stretched and the care system is showing signs of cracking under the pressure.
Increasingly, the ageing population is also proving to be problematic legally.
Mental illnesses such as dementia can make it very difficult for individuals and their families to prove their capacity to make decisions, to act upon their wishes and to protect their assets.
The consequences can be absolutely heartbreaking and potentially, a travesty of justice.
Take a recent case as reported in the Daily Mail this month: Miss G, a 94-year-old spinster, wants to live in her own home with two carers she has chosen herself and pays for privately.
Her local council however, believes that these carers are making Miss G’s decisions for her and are “controlling her life.” They want to provide alternative carers, paid for by Miss G.
However Miss G argues that she was neglected by previous carers from the council and she wants social workers to stop “interfering” in her life. She even spoke to the media to raise awareness of her case and garner support.
Unfortunately the matter may be out of Miss G’s hands as a High Court Judge has ruled in the Court of Protection that she does not have the mental capacity to make decisions about her care, financial affairs, legal representation or where she lives.
The court even ruled that she does not have the mental capacity to speak to the press.
The law rightly requires due mental capacity to allow decision making in some financial and medical affairs in order to protect vulnerable people.
Whether or not Miss G is best protected by the council or by the carers that she has appointed herself, the matter will now be dealt with by outside parties. She no longer has a say.
How could this situation be avoided?
If Miss G had set up a Legal Power of Attorney when she was deemed be of sound mind, she could have selected a trusted person or people, perhaps even her current carers, to make decisions about her care and finances on her behalf should she lose mental capacity in her lifetime.
A valid Will and Estate Plan could also avoid the potential problem of unscrupulous individuals making claims on Miss G’s assets when she dies, thus reducing the risk of anyone trying to take advantage of her in order to profit from her £350,000 estate.
Unfortunately, awareness of the need for this sort of protection is alarmingly low.
Did you know that if you are sectioned for example, all of your assets are frozen by the Court of Protection? That includes any joint bank accounts, pensions, savings and property.
Without a Legal Power of Attorney, no-one has the automatic right to access any of these funds, including a spouse, adult children or other relatives.
A spouse may not be able to move or sell the house as a result. Some people even face a legal battle on a regular basis simply to keep up the mortgage re-payments that used to be systematically paid from a shared account.
The lesson from all this is to act now. As our population ages we need to take precautions to protect our rights and assets, whatever the future may hold. Don’t wait until it is too late.