Conservatorship is a word you might not have heard much. But Britney Spears’ legal problems in the USA have launched it into the headlines. This has prompted some people to ask if there is a UK version of conservatorship.

In the UK, conservatorship is called deputyship. A deputy is chosen by the Court of Protection to make decisions for someone who ‘lacks mental capacity’. A deputy is often a family member or close friend. If the case involves large sums of money, the court is likely to appoint a professional deputy, like a solicitor.

You might think a story about an American popstar has little to do with you. But there’s a reason boomers should care about Britney. And that’s dementia.

What’s a deputy?

A deputy is appointed when someone ‘lacks mental capacity’. This means they can’t make decisions when they need to. Their deputy’s role is to help with this. There are two types of deputy:

  • Property and financial affairs deputy – they do things like pay the person’s bills.
  • Personal welfare deputy – they decide how the person is looked after.

What does a deputy do?

A deputy makes decisions for someone or helps them to decide. A deputy must always think about the person’s mental state, which may change, and about their best interests. The deputy must do all they can to help the person understand any decision they’re making. If they’re unable to make decisions, their deputy decides for them.

Deputies must file an annual report to the Court of Protection about their decisions. The report tells the court about how the person is cared for, including any big decisions about their welfare and the way their money is managed.

Dementia and deputyship

People with dementia can lose their memory, their speech and the ability to think clearly.

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK), there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. And that number is set to rise. Right now, about 1 in 14 people aged over 65 have dementia.

Dementia can make it progressively harder for someone to decide about important matters such as where they live, how they are cared for and how their money is managed.

Lasting power of attorney

You can plan for a time when you can’t make decisions by granting someone else – such as close family member – a ‘lasting power of attorney’ or an LPA. An LPA makes it much easier for someone you trust to look after your affairs if you lose the ability to make decisions due to an illness like dementia or an accident.

An LPA is often better than a deputyship:

  • You can plan how things will work before you lose your ability to decide
  • It is cheaper
  • It is quicker than the court appointing a deputy
  • A deputyship can often cause problems with family and friends.

I want to become a deputy

Becoming a deputy can be hard. You will need to apply to the Court of Protection.

To be considered, you will need to tell the person you are applying to be deputy for. You will also need to tell three people who have a direct interest, including relatives, social workers or healthcare professionals.

There is a £365 fee plus an annual supervision fee.

The court will contact you after 14 days. They’ll tell you if you have been approved. You may need to give more information. If anyone has objected to you being a deputy, there may be a court hearing.

The bottom line

Becoming a deputy can take a long time. It can also affect families and friendships.

An LPA is often the better option. An LPA gives everyone, including anyone with an early diagnosis of dementia, a choice about who will manage their affairs when they are unable to do so. This puts them in control.

Gavin Terry, Head of Policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We suggest someone with a dementia diagnosis thinks about making a lasting power of attorney when they can.

“Deputyships can often take longer to arrange, which may cause problems for families in the meantime - for example, if bills need to be paid. They cost more than LPAs. A deputy is appointed by the Court of Protection, not the person with dementia.

“However, everyone’s circumstances are different. Sometimes a deputyship might be the better or only option.”

More help

For more information on dementia and deputyships, download the Alzheimer’s Society factsheet.

Find out how to make a lasting power of attorney.

Good to know

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