New paper seeks reform of powers of attorney to protect elderly from financial abuse

Far too often the elderly are fleeced by those who claim to care for them.

Far too often the elderly are fleeced by those who claim to care for them. Photo: Getty

Plans to harmonise Australia’s laws on enduring powers of attorney are being considered in a bid to crack down on the financial abuse of the elderly.

A consultation paper was released earlier in October on how state and territory laws could be changed to improve power of attorney laws and make them consistent across the country.

Enduring power of attorneys are legal measures that allow for someone to appoint another person to manage financial and legal decisions on their behalf.

While power of attorneys are made for the benefit of the elderly, they can also pave the way for financial abuse in unscrupulous hands if someone’s money is used or legal documents signed without their knowledge or consent.

“While enduring powers of attorney are intended to provide a protective benefit to principals, if misused or misapplied, they may facilitate abuse by the very person appointed by the older person to protect them,” the consultation paper said.

Rights and responsibilities

Advice stemming from the consultation paper will be provided to attorneys-general in 2024 for consideration.

The paper will look at harmonising how powers of attorney are carried out or revoked, witnessing arrangements, as well as recognising them interstate.

Stricter eligibility requirements for attorneys being appointed are also being considered.

The consultation paper also called for resources be provided to signatories of a power of attorney to let them know of rights and responsibilities under the legal arrangement.

The Standing Council of Attorneys-General, made up of first law officers from federal, state and territory governments, agreed that a national register of power of attorney arrangements would add unnecessary complexity and cost.

Senior associate from law firm Barry Nilsson, Emma Blay, said the proposed changes to power of attorney arrangements were long overdue.

However, she said was disappointed by the lack of support for a national register.

“There is still an issue around the monitoring and regulation of the use of enduring powers of attorney in the long-term, ultimately to ensure the attorney appointed is complying with their duties,” she said.

The consultation paper is open for submissions until November 29.


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