The Role of Panel Deputies and Panel Guardians
Ideally, most of us would wish to have sole control of our financial affairs. However, unwelcome events can occur which may prevent that. As a solution, many people make a Lasting Power of Attorney relating to their property and financial affairs, but sometimes it fails to be effective.
This may be because the attorneys appointed prove to be incapable of working with one another, they may die or become unwell or, worse, be downright dishonest. Of course, for perfectly understandable reasons, many people fail to make a Lasting Power of Attorney altogether. There are many instances therefore where attorneys are not available/suitable to act where assistance might be needed in management of financial affairs.
In these circumstances, the Court of Protection may appoint Financial Affairs Deputies. In the absence of anyone more suitable, and as a last resort, appointments may be made from a specialist panel of professional deputies approved by the Office of the Public Guardian. There are around 70 panel deputies across England and Wales with just six to whom such cases are referred across all of the East Midlands and East Anglia.
Frequently the cases referred to Panel Deputies by the Office of the Public Guardian can be extremely challenging whether it be as a result of family rifts, accumulated financial neglect often over many years, or with complex finances sometimes often involving management of businesses and farms. Panel Deputies have to be experienced therefore in communicating and negotiating between interested parties, as well as capable of addressing a wide spectrum of legal and financial situations. They have a duty to act in their clients’ best interests in all dealings and as part of that responsibility, consideration needs to be given in many cases to applications to the Court of Protection for Statutory Wills, permission for the sale of properties, permission to make gifts and the like.
There is an entirely separate panel maintained by the Office of the Public Guardian of professionals to assist in the management of missing persons’ affairs. The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 came fully into force in England and Wales on 31st July 2019. It creates a new legal status of guardian of the affairs of a missing person enabling someone to act in the best interests of a person who has been missing (generally) for 90 days or more. The Act has been referred to as “Claudia’s Law”; referring to Claudia Lawrence who is missing. Prior to the issue of the legislation there was no mechanism in England and Wales intended specifically to protect the property and affairs of a missing person. The new legislation enables management of the missing person’s finances to preserve and safeguard those pending either that person’s reappearance or a declaration of presumed death. As in the case of deputyship, in the absence of anyone more suitable, Panel Guardians may be appointed in these challenging circumstances.
It isn’t generally possible to safeguard against every conceivable eventuality but many of the difficulties most frequently encountered can be avoided through the making of a sensible Lasting Power of Attorney for property and financial affairs (with again the important proviso that the attorneys should be efficient, capable of working with one another and above all trustworthy). MCP are very happy to give estimates of charges for the preparation of Lasting Powers of Attorney for both property and financial affairs and, entirely separate to that, health and personal welfare aspects.
The writer is Simon Scott who is a Partner of MCP, and both a Panel Deputy and a Panel Guardian.