Movie icon’s plight shows the need for power of attorney

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The recent news that Omar Sharif, one of Hollywood’s most charismatic actors, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease has saddened many of us who remember him in his heyday.

A heartthrob who became a worldwide name for his appearances in classic films like Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago, for many of us it is hard to believe he is now a frail 83-year-old, who has been blighted with this very sad condition.

As well as being a great actor, Omar Sharif was also a very adept bridge player – quite clearly an intelligent man who had a sharp mind.

However, as the news broken in the past couple of weeks shows, time waits for no one.

Whilst sad, it does give us as law professionals an opportunity to help advise families who are as much victims themselves, having the arduous task of caring for someone who has lost use of their mental faculties.

Age-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, are increasing as we live longer and it means that many independent people can no longer look after their financial affairs.

To the vast majority the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which will allow people to manage money on behalf of loved ones under what is known as lasting power of attorney agreements, needs publicising when we hear of such tales as what has happened to Hollywood star Omar Sharif.

In essence, a lasting power of attorney is a drawn up document, which allows another person to make decisions where a person has lost mental capacity – but what has to be emphasised is they can only be set up when the person is still able to make decisions for themselves!

It is necessary to safeguard many, and also make dealing with the financial affairs of those with dementia and other conditions much easier.

I’m sure all of us have heard tales of people trying to talk to banks or utility companies on behalf of someone and ending up getting nowhere due to confidentiality.

Dare you imagine how difficult that is if the person is not able to make their own decisions?

As we said, when the mental capacity to make the decision has been lost, it is too late.

An application would instead then need to be made to the Court of Protection, a lengthy and expensive process.

It is worth saying that once a lasting power of attorney is in place it does not mean the donor can no longer make decisions for themselves.

They can carry on as before, but the appointed attorney is there, just in case.

So as you can see this document makes sense – but it means families will have to face some uncomfortable issues.

However, with the Alzheimer’s Society expecting there to be a million people with dementia in the UK by 2025, the need for us all to have safeguards has never been greater.