28 September 2022

Legal steps to consider when diagnosed with a life-limiting illness

By Kieran Athow, Solicitor, Hayes + Storr.

On top of the heartbreak and worry that a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness can cause, there will be a raft of concerns and uncertainties about your care and financial affairs, and it can be difficult to know exactly how to prepare from a legal standpoint.

There are steps you can take to ensure that your care runs smoothly following such a diagnosis. A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for Health & Welfare Decisions can be an essential part of future care planning, alongside the preparation of an Advance Care Plan.

Considerations for an LPA for Health & Welfare Decisions

An LPA for Health & Welfare Decisions allows you to appoint a number of individuals to act as your ‘attorneys’ with respect to your health and care decisions. Your attorneys must be over 18 years of age and have mental capacity. You must select your attorneys carefully, having due consideration as to whether such individual(s) would be appropriate attorney(s) and whether they have suitable character/experience to make difficult decisions on your behalf.

Your attorneys would have the power to make decisions on your behalf with respect to your health and care, including but not limited to your daily routine (diet etc), medical care, moving into a care home and also decisions surrounding life sustaining treatment (with the latter being subject to express authorisation being provided within the LPA itself).

It is important to note that your attorneys can only act on your behalf with respect to your health and care decisions when you become incapable of making such decisions yourself.

It is also possible to prepare an LPA for Property & Financial Affairs. This would deal with decisions surrounding your banking, selling your home and paying any bills and outgoings during your lifetime.

Advance Care Plan

In addition to an LPA, an Advance Care Plan (ACP) allows you to clearly set out your personal wishes regarding the care and treatment you should receive. It is not a legally binding document; however, it ensures that the people involved in your care know what is important to you.

ACPs are normally made together with your healthcare team. Some people feel they need help from their nurse or doctor to fill in an ACP, but you can also complete one yourself. An example of an Advance Care Plan template can be found here on the Dementia UK website.

Once completed, you should keep a copy amongst your papers and also give a copy to anyone else who is involved in your care. If you have prepared an LPA for Health & Welfare Decisions, then you should make a note of this within your ACP.

Will Considerations

It is also important that you consider the terms of your existing Will (if held) to ensure that no changes are required. If you do not have an existing Will, then it is advisable for you to consider preparing one.

How can we help?

If you would like legal advice following the diagnosis of a progressive illness, please contact Kieran Athow on 01328 863231 or email Kieran.athow@hayes-storr.com. Kieran will talk you through the various options step-by-step so it does not feel overwhelming to deal with.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.