Caring comes first in matters of old age06-10-2016
Some might say that I deal with all the things no-one really wants to talk about.
That’s because ‘my bag’ includes aspects of the law such as Wills, Probate and Lasting Powers of Attorney.
…all of the things most people prefer to push to the backs of their minds – until circumstances force them back to the front, often with a jolt.
As a result, the vast majority of people who contact me to help them sort out such things are older.
I’ve always taken my responsibilities as a lawyer very seriously, no matter who I’m dealing with, but I’m never more conscious of them than when supporting elderly people, in often very emotional and complex situations.
This is why, although I’ve been a member of the Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) training and best practice organisation for many years, I have recently completed the appropriate course and assessment to become a full accredited member. I am keen to make sure I’m in the best possible position to help and the accreditation includes training in the kind of people skills which are so important when it comes to dealing with people who are more vulnerable.
Understanding the challenges of ageing
As we all know, the older population in the UK is expanding rapidly, thanks to growing life expectancy. Sadly, though, as people get older, they often struggle a little bit more with the kinds of decisions that they have taken in their stride in their younger years. The prevalence of illnesses covered by the term ‘dementia’, such as Alzheimer’s disease, is increasing too.
All this, coupled with complicated changes to legislation around pensions, care costs and inheritance tax, mean that people need not just advice but also hand-holding from a legal professional who is trained to care for their needs in the right way.
I find that many older people are really quite nervous about seeing a lawyer. They might also find the whole experience very emotional because they are facing the prospect of going into residential care, or have received a dementia diagnosis. SFE members like myself go out of our way to make them feel at ease. Whereas we must at all times be professional, we do our best not to sound officious, be patient and make sure we are communicating clearly, and in language which is easy for the person to understand.
Silver linings in the most difficult situations
One case I dealt with in recent years, for example, involved seeing an elderly client in hospital. He had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and his wife was in the early stages of dementia. He urgently needed to legally protect his and his wife’s assets, and make sure his future wishes were clearly documented while there was still time. My first priority, therefore, was to talk to the client by himself, to understand his wishes. Then, I needed to help him to explain them to his family, and take them through the practical steps necessary to make sure they were enforced, such as the possibility, for example, of making Wills and Lasting Power of Attorneys for him and his wife. All of this at a time when everyone in the family was experiencing a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride for all the reasons I’ve outlined.
In situations like this, my approach is to try to put myself in the shoes of those I am helping, and to show compassion from my own personal experience. I also try to display the kind of clarity and honesty I think I would appreciate in a situation like theirs. It’s also incredibly important to listen rather than just talk to myself.
From a professional point of view, my focus is always on ensuring the most positive outcome possible for the person themselves and their loved ones, which in this case was having his family cared for as he’d wished, in the years after he had passed on.
Why choose a specialist lawyer?
When seeking legal help for yourself or a relative who is older and/or vulnerable, I would suggest you look for a specialist who:
- Is prepared to provide you with initial impartial advice for free
- You feel is on your wave length – who you can talk to as a person and not just a solicitor
- Has full Accreditation from SFE – this shows they’ve taken the time to learn the specific skills they need to offer you or your relative the best possible care
- Is flexible enough to meet with you whenever and wherever is best for your or your relative’s circumstances – for example, at home if that;s where they feel most comfortable
- Doesn’t rush you, who makes you feel that you can ask as many questions as you need to, and takes the time to explain
- Is transparent about what their advice and help is going to cost you, so that you can be reassured that you don’t face the additional stress of worrying about money.
From October 2016, SFE will only refer people to Fully Accredited members for legal help.
If you or someone you know is vulnerable and would appreciate a supportive conversation about legal options, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call on (01482) 974477 or 07702 893497.