When someone loses mental capacity, it's sometimes necessary to apply to the Court of Protection to appoint a deputy. A deputy is appointed to make decisions on behalf of the person who no longer has capacity. More often than not, this person is a family member or close friend, but it can be stressful looking after a loved one's affairs. Therefore, it may be necessary to appoint a professional deputy to manage things instead.
But what role does a deputy have, and how can professional deputies differ in their approach?
The main role of a deputy is to manage financial affairs, including the sale, purchase or adaptation of a property, ensuring benefits entitlements, liaising with the local authority and NHS for funding for necessary care and managing any investment opportunities.
All deputies must act in the best interests of the person who lacks capacity. What is in one person's best interests is not necessarily in another person's best interests, and some deputies can be quite rigid and strict. This can often result in disputes with families and relationships breaking down. The last thing anyone wants or needs in these situations are unnecessary arguments and fighting, which ultimately costs money.
An example of this can be after someone has received compensation for a personal injury claim. Some deputies are very much of the mind that if something wasn't claimed in the schedule of loss, then the person's money can't be spent on it. A prime example of this is where the person wants to buy a house, but there was no provision for accommodation in the claim. Does this mean that because some of their compensation wasn't earmarked for buying a house, using the money for this wouldn't be in the person's best interests? Well, in my opinion, no. It's all about assessing each person as an individual, getting to know them and their family and truly understanding what's best for them.
Imagine a young person who received a million-pound-settlement after a road traffic collision, but this didn't include a claim for accommodation. One deputy may look at the case and decide that purchasing a property was unaffordable because it hadn't been claimed for. But what if the person had continued to go from one rental property to another, never really settling and always finding themselves in trouble with the neighbours or landlords?
If I were the professional deputy in a case like this, I'd want to get to the bottom of what was going on. I'd ask what the problems are, why they keep moving and explore all options. By having these conversations, I may well look at how we could purchase an appropriate property that could work for them.
Looking at it through their eyes and figuring out what was best for them could mean that they end up with a place to call their own and provide them with some much-needed stability. It could also reduce costs associated with them continually having to move, and it's not like I'm throwing their money away. A property is an investment and will hopefully go up in value – isn't that in their best interests if it's affordable?
Of course, there are sometimes things that clients, their family and friends suggest that just aren't in the person's best interests, and that can cause issues, but it's about clearly explaining why something can or can't happen and the reason why. It's far easier to say "no" to someone that trusts your judgement, and trust can only be gained by getting to know the person and their family. Communication is, therefore, key to maintaining a relationship and avoiding unnecessary disputes.