Giving family peace of mind if dementia should strike
Earlier this year, some worrying figures were issued by the Alzheimer's Society, which highlighted exceptionally high levels of dementia diagnosis in Northern Ireland. In the past year, there has been an increase of 600 patients in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 11,800.
The figures are part of a national report that shows dramatic variations across the UK. They range from a diagnosis rate of 32% in Yorkshire to 63% in Northern Ireland. The UK average is 46%. The diagnosis rate for Belfast is 75.5%.
Mental incapacity can arise for a vast number of reasons. However, the most common is the onset of dementia, or Alzheimer's.
In Northern Ireland, there are approximately 19,000 people living with dementia. According to the leading charity in the field, the Alzheimer's Society, this number is expected to treble by 2051.
Worryingly for us all, the condition doesn't only affect the elderly. The rate of people under the age of 65 being diagnosed with Alzheimer's is increasing and, therefore, we need to be mindful that this disease can affect us at a much younger age than we expect.
Mental incapacity can also arise following an accident resulting in brain injury, or suffering a stroke, brain tumour or another illness.
According to Headway, The Brain Injury Association, there are one million (approximately) people in the UK living with the long-term effects of brain injury. In Northern Ireland, 661 people per 100,000 sustained an acquired brain injury in 2011-12 - the highest rate in the UK.
Mental incapacity can happen at any time in our lives and we need to seriously appreciate the consequences of being unable to deal with those financial agencies we interact with on a daily basis.
For example, carrying out daily tasks such as paying our bills, dealing with the bank to lodge money, withdrawing money at the ATM, paying the mortgage, renewing house and car insurance, dealing with the Social Security Agency to obtain benefits, dealing with your life insurance company to draw down your income protection policies ... the list can go on and on.
It's also important to consider the impact of your incapacity on the lives of your family. Not only will they be dealing with the uncertainty of your medical condition, but they will have the added financial uncertainty.
By making an Enduring Power of Attorney, you can appoint an attorney (or attorneys) to look after your financial affairs and relieve this stress - if the time arises.
An Enduring Power of Attorney is a simple, prescribed form, which is flexible enough to tailor to your own needs and circumstances. The Enduring Power of Attorney will need registered with the High Court when your attorneys believe you are incapable, or are becoming mentally incapable. However, this process is simple to follow and much less expensive than the alternative.
Up until the point of incapacity, you still have the option to revoke the Enduring Power of Attorney if you change your mind.
What is the alternative? The alternative is to simply do nothing. You may never need to rely on an Enduring Power of Attorney. However, if your family needs to step in to control your financial affairs, then they will need to make an application to the Office of Care and Protection in the High Court.
This can be a much more expensive and time-consuming process and you will have a lack of control over who is appointed and what they will be allowed to do.
Making an Enduring Power of Attorney will not only give you peace of mind; it will mean peace of mind for your family, too.
Paula Morrow is head of the private client team at Walker Legal