The body that represents solicitors in England and Wales has warned that proposals to fully digitise the process for making a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) could put frail or elderly people at risk of abuse.
In its response to a consultation by to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), the Law Society said that complete digitalisation of the process for making an LPA would remove the safeguards provided by physical, witnessed signatures.
LPAs are legal documents that allow the applicant to appoint someone they know and trust to make decisions about their health and welfare or financial affairs if they lose physical or mental capacity in the future.
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: “The society has serious concerns about the proposed introduction of a fully digital system without traditional physical signatures as this removes an essential safeguard against abuse of a highly vulnerable sector of society, who are the most susceptible to fraud and duress.
“Extreme caution must be exercised in applying a digitisation initiative to a group of people who are most vulnerable. It is essential to retain the safeguard of physical signatures to prevent potential problems of abuse.
“The removal of a witness and the formalities of preparing a deed reduces the creation of a Lasting Power of Attorney to a commoditised product. This is dangerous because once created it is a very powerful document.
“The proposals do not explain in detail how the online process will work, and this raises important questions: for example, whether all the parties have to use the same computer at the same time; if not, how the certificate provider will be able to confirm that the elderly or frail person understands the powers they are granting and that they have not been subject to undue pressure or abuse.”
The OPG is currently analysing responses to the consultation, which ran from 15 October to 26 November.