Budget for Guardian Angel in Old Age says Lawyer


  • Top worries for Britons as they age: losing eyesight, memory and mobility
  • Relatives skimp on care in absence of clear instructions
  • Only 15% of elderly are prepared for loss of sight or memory

Elderly man thinking

Research has revealed that people’s biggest fears are losing their eyesight, memory and mobility. A lawyer says concerns are real, and warns of the risks of leaving financial and care decisions in the hands of inheritors without instructions.

Simpson Millar’s latest national survey of 1,000 people found that 37% of us fear losing our eyesight the most, 33% felt losing their memory would be worst, and 17% were most afraid of losing their mobility.

Official statistics from the WHO and the Royal National Institute of Blind People show that those fears have merit. But more alarming are the consequences of failing to prepare for the worst, according to a lawyer for the elderly who has now highlighted the importance of making sure clear instructions are in place, and that money is allocated for guardian angel visits.

Head of Wills and Trusts at Simpson Millar says: “A worrying number of people still don’t leave any directions about their future care and finances, and that is causing problems amongst relatives – sometimes those who expect an inheritance in the near future.

“In just five years, a million people in Britain will suffer from Dementia but only around 15% of people over the age of 75 have a Lasting Power of Attorney in place. Sadly, the problem is often that people don’t feel they can trust those around them.

“With no formal directions in place, people might by default put their health and financial security in the hands of someone who doesn’t know their preferences or, worse, someone who doesn’t have their best interests at heart.”

Those failing to leave instructions about what their money should be spent on risk receiving sub-standard care as relatives opt for saving their assets instead.

She says: “Relatives are falling into dispute because they disagree on how much of a parent’s estate should be spent on their care and well-being, and how much should be saved for a potential future inheritance.

“We have seen several sad cases where an elderly person is lacking the most basic necessities such as heating, proper food and clothing despite the fact that a relative is supposed to be keeping an eye on them.

“Instances where basic hygiene has suffered because an elderly person can’t manage alone, and where their home has become unsuitable for anyone to live in are becoming more frequent. The neglect sometimes happens because a relative in charge of that person’s finances simply won’t pay for basic cleaning and care assistance.

“Something that is harder to define is loneliness. Isolation caused by a lack of contact with relatives is both a sad and serious matter; funds should but rarely is made available for regular social visits from a caring professional. Making sure an elderly person is able to maintain their mobility and interests can positively affect their overall health and well-being but it is something very few people even consider making arrangements for.

“If it is suspected that relatives are skimping on care, a referral to Adult Social Services might be necessary, or ultimately the Court of Protection will be asked to intervene. But, of course, someone who cares has to be around often enough to spot when something isn’t right. That is at the heart of the problem.”

Making arrangements for regular visits from an independent party can ensure the focus remains on the wellbeing of the individual in question: “Professionals can help make decisions about care funding and even provide regular visits and companionship. Independent, regular oversight where someone is there to point out obvious failings, in my experience, has proven invaluable in maintaining a respectable level of care. Sadly, it isn’t something people consider necessary, and therefore fail to budget for.”

Although the loss of mobility and eyesight are both distressing, the biggest challenge arises when someone loses their memory, she explains. “Once someone has lost their mental capacity, we cannot put a Lasting Power of Attorney in place and, of course, they might struggle to communicate their wishes. Instead, family members can apply to the Court of Protection for a Deputyship Order and at this point, how your money is spent is in their hands.”

Official Ministry of Justice figures show that 26,272 Court of Protection applications were made in 2014, compared with 22,583 in 2010.

In November 2015, Simpson Millar asked 1,000 people the following question:

Which of the following are you most worried about losing?

My Eyesight37%
My Memory33%
My Mobility17%
The Ability to Work4%
My Hearing3%
Other/None of the Above6%

Case study

One of our solicitors has witnessed failings and lack of resident support at a local care home in her role as deputy to an elderly lady who has lost the ability to make her own decisions.

It is the case of a pensioner whose care has been lacking on a number of occasions which has prompted her to remind people that the cost of care in old age should encompass a regular ‘social’ budget too.

Originally from Germany, an elderly lady who will just be referred to as ‘M’ for privacy reasons, moved to the UK when she married her English husband in 1950s. The couple never had children and M was left without any close relatives, completely alone, when her husband passed away ten years ago.

M lived by herself in a Bungalow in Leeds, until she fell onto a gas fire at her home and burnt her legs. She was rushed into hospital with serious burns that developed into leg ulcers. This unfortunately meant that M was no longer able to live by herself and needed to go into care.

With no close relatives, the Court of Protection appointed the Head of Wills & Probate at Simpson Millar as M’s deputy worker. She says:

“I become responsible for M’s financial affairs but also for making sure she was properly cared for. Experience has taught me the value of company and regular visits from someone who is able to tell if anything isn't quite right."

She appointed Fiona Gilbert of Girlmonday2friday, who provides a regular visiting service to care home residents in an advocacy and companion capacity. She has now been visiting an 89-year-old resident at a local care home every week for three years, and during that time she has played a key role in pointing out care failings.

The burns on M's legs never healed so she finds it difficult to move on her own - spending the majority of the day in her room. "She misses out on daily social interaction but also on the opportunity to be seen and heard by care home staff that are simply too busy to spend time with her," explains Fiona.

“Due to the pain in her legs, M is unable to move very much and she often can’t make it to the toilet in time. Unfortunately, she tells me, staff don’t look in on her very often and because she is afraid of falling, she is pretty much bed-bound. This is not only an emotionally difficult situation for her; she risks an infection in her legs from any lack of basic hygiene."

The bandages on M's legs need changing two to three times a week, but what’s needed isn’t always done. “District nurses are supposed to visit M and do this for her at least twice a week. Too often, I’ve visited M and noticed that her bandages simply haven't been changed. Once I report this to her GP it gets sorted straight away, but it does leave me worried about why the nurses didn't visit, and why no one else noticed.

“Another time I came to visit, I saw that M's feet were badly swollen. I reported it to her GP and she was immediately put on antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs to stop the infection from spreading. If I hadn't been there, M's plight could have been prolonged until the care home staff noticed the problem or the district nurses had arrived."

M suffers from dementia which presents other challenges for her in a care home with an open-door policy. Fiona explain: "Other care home residents can freely enter M's room and while, in theory, it promotes companionship, it is in fact causing more distress than good for this lady.

“She struggles to cope with any changes to her environment and unfortunately, another resident often wanders into her room - leaving things behind and taking some of M's. Sometimes I have arrived to find her very distraught - unable to remember where these things have come from. I've raised the issue with staff but I fear that no one would notice if I didn't."

Fiona points out that due to time limitations beyond their control, care assistants and other staff don’t always have the time to spend one-to-one with residents. As a result, things such as real and engaging conversation with residents may get missed. "I have only seen staff engaged in conversation with M on a small handful of occasions and although I understand that time is limited, that simply isn't enough for someone who is terribly lonely. She needs the comfort of companionship just as much as she needs food and medical care.”

M now introduces Fiona to others as her best friend; someone she has known since childhood: “When I visit M we spend hours talking, joking around and laughing. I play the role of the relatives she doesn't have, while also being a watchful pair of eyes to make sure she is ok. I see just how quickly some residents deteriorate both physically and mentally when they are left alone in their own company, day in and day out. I wish there was more focus on this area of care."

She says M's story is far from unique and highlights the lack of funds available for visitors. "M’s savings have enabled us to put in place a safety net to ensure her wellbeing through friendship and oversight of her care. Unfortunately, people who have little or no funds left at this age are often left entirely in the hands of the system and that is a problem. Everyone needs someone like Fiona to look out for them."

The Simpson Millar survey was carried out by market research company, Atomik Research in November 2015 across a national representative sample of ages, regions and genders.

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