Couples have been warned that just being married is ‘no protection’ for their assets or property if either the husband or wife suffers from dementia or a stroke.
Peter Stephens, from law firm mfg Solicitors, has warned that married couples and unmarried couples must consider whether they should apply for lasting power of attorney in the event that one loses mental capacity.
The probate, wills and estates expert said too many people were taken by surprise when joint bank accounts were frozen, often for months on end, due to a mistaken belief that a husband or wife could just take charge.
Mr Stephens, a partner within mfg’s Private Client department, said: “Being married or in a civil partnership does not in itself give any right to deal with the other’s assets in the event of incapacity.
“If this happens, the account is frozen until the incapacitated account holder has legal representation, such as a legally appointed attorney or deputy. The only way to prevent the account being frozen is for power of attorney to be granted to the spouse before mental capacity is lost.”
Mr Stephens warned couples they faced delays of many months and a costly legal process of applying to the Court of Protection to become a ‘deputy’ unless they had lasting power of attorney.
He added: “Having to go through the Court of Protection is the last thing anyone wants to do when they are already seeing a loved one deteriorate and they just want to keep the finances running normally for them.
“It is drawn out and expensive this way because there’s an annual supervision fee to the court, annual accounts have to be prepared and it requires a security bond.”
Mr Stephens said it was prudent for couples to make lasting power of attorney plans while both were well in case they lost capacity for any reason.
Peter Stephens can be contacted for advice through www.mfgsolicitors.com or by calling 0845 55 55 321.