personal finance

Power of Attorney: How to use one in the UK

Power of attorney grants a person the authority to manage the finances of someone who becomes incapacitated or is just temporarily unable to look after their affairs, such as if they go into hospital. It sounds straightforward, right?

If you need to find out more about the power of attorney in the UK, read on…

Why is it important to get a power of attorney early?

Dealing with financial providers as an attorney

What would you expect the bank cashier to do if someone walked into your bank branch with a photocopied document, giving them the right to take cash from your account? The cashier should politely dismiss the request.

It’s for this reason that an attorney must present a certified copy of the power of attorney, which will cost anywhere between £10 and £35. Incidentally, you can claim this expense to the donor.    

You should send certified copies of your power of attorney to each of the financial institutions the donor has dealings with. These will include any bank they have a current or savings account with, their landlord or mortgage provider, general or life insurer and investment portfolio managers.

You will also have to deal with their gas, electricity and water providers, as well as ensuring the Council Tax is paid.

You can avoid wishing for hindsight by asking the donor to provide their financial information when you are asked and agree to be their attorney. Assure them you won’t need their bank details, but point out that you need to know which providers they save with, where their pensions and investments are held and who provides their gas and electric. All this will make life much easier later on.

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Go prepared for difficult questions

If you find yourself being called on to act as an attorney, the chances are you will be faced with some difficult questions when you come to use exercise your powers.

In the ideal world, you would be able to walk into a bank branch, present a certified copy of your power of attorney and be granted access to the donor’s account. In reality, there is a fair chance you will meet with some resistance.

Power of attorney is not something bank cashiers come across every day, and some staff will have never dealt with it, so you will have to forgive the blank looks and politely persevere.

Ask for the bank, building society or other provider’s procedure for dealing with power of attorney. If you find you are getting nowhere, explain that power of attorney is a legal arrangement and that you’d like to speak to the person who is responsible for this area.

Incidentally, it’s always a good idea to check on each provider’s website for their advice on registering power of attorney (and printing the relevant pages up if you want to run through the issue in branch).

You may arrive brandishing your power of attorney, but don’t forget to have some proof of identity. If you also bank with the provider, a debit or credit card will help, but also take your passport and/or driving licence. You will also be asked for some proof of residence, which can be a recent utility bill or Council Tax bill.

Read our guide to making a Will

Using your powers of attorney

As an attorney, you are legally bound to ensure you look after the finances or health and welfare of your donor. This means you must be able to access their account, either on or offline.

The better banks will issue you a debit card; others may just allow internet banking access. Providing you don’t have to jump through hoops to fulfil your duties, this is fine. But be willing to push back if you think the bank is being awkward – after all, you are doing someone else a favour, and it isn’t the financial provider.  

Depending on the powers of attorney you have been given, as in full or partial (ie, you can only deal with their bills, but can’t do anything about who they bank with), you could decide they are better off switching bank savings account or mortgage.

You are entitled to do so. In fact, as the proxy for the person you are acting as attorney for, you are obligated to do the best you can.

If you feel you are running up against a brick wall, something is wrong and you should speak to a professional organisation, such as Citizens Advice.

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