The Law Society has warned that proposals to fully digitise the process for making a Lasting Power of Attorney will put vulnerable people at risk of abuse.
In a consultation response to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), the Law Society said complete digitalisation of the process for making a Lasting Power of Attorney would remove the safeguards that are provided by physical ‘wet’ witnessed signatures for vulnerable people.
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: ‘The Society has serious concerns about the proposed introduction of a fully digital system without traditional physical signatures as this removes an essential safeguard against abuse of a highly vulnerable sector of society, who are the most susceptible to fraud and duress.
‘While we welcome the partial digitalisation of some services and the introduction of a hybrid form option, extreme caution must be exercised in applying a digitisation initiative to a group of people who are most vulnerable. It is essential to retain the safeguard of physical signatures to prevent potential problems of abuse.
‘The OPG consultation paper itself recognises that “…16 million adults in the UK do not have basic online skills” and that “elderly people, along with those on a low income and those affected by disability are the most likely to lack these skills”.’
Nicholas Fluck warned: “The removal of a witness and the formalities of preparing a deed reduces the creation of a Lasting Power of Attorney to a commoditised product. This is dangerous because once created it a very powerful document. The proposals do not explain in detail how the online process will work, and this raises important questions: for example, whether all the parties have to use the same computer at the same time; if not, how the certificate provider will be able to confirm that the elderly or frail person understands the powers they are granting and that they have not been subject to undue pressure or abuse.’
The Law Society consultation response, which was drafted by the Wills and Equity Committee along with the Mental Health and Disability Committee and the Technology and Law Reference Group, explains that the creation of a fully digital Lasting Power of Attorney in practice means removing the role of the witness and there is no evidence that this is a desirable next step that will ‘encourage greater numbers of the population to plan ahead’ by making a Lasting Power of Attorney.