Spotlight on powers of attorney as part of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, law firm Maurice Blackburn has backed the creation of a national register for powers of attorney to help safeguard against elder abuse.


But the law firm says a register alone won’t prevent all abuse associated with powers of attorney, and that broader law reform is needed to protect the elderly from financial abuse.


Principal Andrew Simpson, head of the firm’s wills and estates practice, said an enduring power of attorney is one of the most important documents a person will ever make.


“If you lose capacity, the person who holds your power of attorney will have complete control over all decisions relating to you and your affairs,” he said.


“By their very nature, a power of attorney bestows enormous power on the attorney, and unfortunately this power is sometimes abused.”


The federal Attorney-General’s department is undertaking public consultation until June 30 on the design of a mandatory national registration scheme for enduring powers of attorney.


In a preview of Maurice Blackburn’s submission to the consultation, Mr Simpson said improving the powers of attorney system was needed given Australia’s ageing population.


“People are living longer and dementia is now the second biggest cause of death in Australia behind heart disease.


“This means the need for substitute decision makers will become increasingly important in the coming years as the baby boomers age and decline.”


Mr Simpson said the increased transparency that comes from a national register will act as a deterrent to many potential abusers.


“A national register of powers of attorney will play a crucial role in protecting older Australians from financial abuse.


“A register will ensure that only one enduring power of attorney can be registered at any given time, preventing unscrupulous people from trying to rely on revoked documents.


“It will help financial institutions and other service providers assess the currency and scope of any powers of attorney more quickly and cost effectively.”


But Mr Simpson warned a national register alone would not detect all fraud associated with powers of attorney, as this kind of financial elder abuse is often perpetuated by close family members behind closed doors.


“Registration of a power of attorney will not necessarily prove the document’s validity, merely its existence,” he said.


“As we mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we encourage law makers around the country to consider further measures to protect older Australians from financial abuse.


“Banning paid carers from being appointed as powers of attorney, and introducing a specific crime of elder abuse, are other law reform initiatives we’d like to see implemented in all states and territories to help safeguard the elderly from abuse.”


15 June 2021.