A deputy is an individual appointed by the court to look after the affairs of a person who is unable to take care of themselves when it comes to financial matters or even personal care. A deputy doesn’t have to be a legal expert or even a qualified solicitor, and ‘lay deputies’ can also be appointed to take care of a person’s interests. They may be relatives or trusted friends, but the key is that they are legally appointed by the courts to make sure a vulnerable person isn’t subject to undue pressure on what can be worrying and challenging decisions.
Deputies work on behalf of all vulnerable people, from elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s to young children who face a lifetime of dependency as the result of a birth accident, for example.
Usually, the individual has no input as to whom is chosen as a deputy to act on their behalf. It’s more common for family members to make a deputyship application on the individual’s behalf. While this may seem somewhat draconian, bear in mind that deputies are only appointed if a person has advanced mental health illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia included, or has suffered a brain injury that prevents them from taking care of their own affairs independently. Under the Mental Capacity Act, deputies are still required to consult with the individual where possible and to help them understand the fact that the deputy is taking care of their financial concerns on their behalf.
The role of a deputy is not an easy one. A raft of compliance issues imposed by the CoP surround the role to ensure the safety and well-being of the individual. It can also sometimes be a contentious issue within families, especially if there are trust issues between siblings, for example, or a family dispute has alienated the individual from close family members. In situations like this, it’s far better to have a professional deputy take on the role – someone who is not only impartial and independent, but who is experienced at fulfilling what can be an extremely complicated position.
A lay deputy is usually someone who is known and trusted by an individual or their family. They can be a close family member or a life-long friend. The suitability of a lay deputy is established by the Court of Protection, to ensure that the lay deputy has the individual’s best interests at heart at all times. They may also look into the suitability of the lay deputy to ensure they are capable of dealing with complex issues such as organising and managing a person’s finances on their behalf.
A lay deputy must be over the age of 18 and of ‘demonstrably good character’, so you cannot be a lay deputy if you have a criminal record or have previously been declared bankrupt.
When a person’s requirements are a little more complex, or there is any concern that a lay deputy has not been acting in the individual’s best interests, the Court of Protection can appoint a professional deputy. These can often be from the local council’s Adult Care department, or they can be legal professionals who specialise in the role. Once a deputy is in place, it’s highly unusual for them to be replaced.
Professional deputies are experienced legal experts who specialise in acting as a deputy for individuals. More than one professional deputy can be appointed, and you may have one who deals with the financial aspects of a person’s requirements, and very occasionally, another who specialises in the individual’s welfare needs.
The main difference between the two is that professional deputies are allocated by the Court of Protection to help those with more complex needs. They can also function as deputies for more than one person at a time.
Once a deputy has been appointed, they need to arrange for an indemnity bond for the value of the individual’s assets, which is determined by the court. This bond needs to be renewed annually. In addition, the deputy will have to provide detailed accounts to the court each year in connection with the income & expenditure of the individual, and pay an annual fee for the court’s supervision.
How can you make a deputy’s life easier?
Because of the complex nature of the role of a deputy, the most important thing to provide is information. If a deputy is to take care of financial issues then they’ll need all the relevant information such as bank account details, pension information, and benefit payments.
Liaising with care teams is also important so that the individual’s welfare issues can be discussed openly and honestly. And it’s important for the deputy to listen to the wishes of the individual too, so they aren’t excluded from conversations that concern their financial or welfare issues. Just because they are no longer able to make those decisions for themselves doesn’t mean that they should be left in the dark about what’s happening. Deputies, both professional and lay, must work closely with the individual’s family at all times.
In reality, it’s quicker and cheaper to arrange for a Lasting Power of Attorney to be put in place, which also allows the individual to choose who deals with their affairs should they become incapacitated through illness or injury, rather than having the matter dictated to them by the courts.
If you or a family member is concerned that they may be unable to continue looking after financial or welfare concerns, or if you’ve been asked to take on the role of lay deputy and are not sure what to do, talk to a legal advisor today. They’ll be able to take you through the process, what your duties are as a deputy, and whether appointing a professional deputy may be advisable, especially if an individual’s financial management issues are particularly complex.