The law can be scary and confusing to people who do not have much to do with it and, like most areas of life, there are things people believe but which are not true.
Common law wife/husband is one of the most common ones, if you can forgive the pun. People believe that if you live with someone for more than two years then you have rights. Sadly, this is not true and people only find out later on when they split up that they may come away from a long term relationship with nothing.
Next of kin is also an often used phrase and people use it when they think that it gives them rights over their relative. The main occasion when relationships are relevant is when someone dies, and the law sets out who should benefit from their estate. Being the oldest child or the oldest son does not give you rights over your brothers and sisters or make you in charge. Each child is equal.
Does a next of kin have legal rights and responsibilities?
The question of next of kin is frequently raised with a patient when they are in hospital. What this means is who should we contact if there are any issues and could be anyone including, for example, a partner, friend or any relative. People think that being a close family member gives them the rights to decide where the relative should live or what treatment they can receive and even who is allowed in to seeing them or not.
Another issue is using someone else’s bank card. Under the terms of the bank who issued the card, the account holder is the only person who can use it. People believe that if they are given the card to withdraw cash or to purchase shopping then this is OK. It is not and does not protect either the person using it or the account holder.
Likewise, people think if they have the login and password details for the account holder then can to access their account. Again, this is not true and is in fact a crime under the Computer Misuse Act. It does not matter if you have been given permission to do so or not.
The other common problem is joint accounts. Sometimes banks suggest that where a person needs help to deal with their finances it is simpler and better to add the person helping to the account even though none of the money in the account belongs to them. However, the disadvantage is that when the original account holder dies, the other account holder inherits everything in the account. It is not an asset of the estate and does not need to be shared with the other beneficiaries.
There is a document called a Power of Attorney which allows someone to decide who can make decisions for them if they are not able to and also who can access funds if they want them to. This allows a person to choose who to act for them and make decisions, especially if they lost the capacity to do so.
One of the great things about a Power of Attorney is that it protects not only the person making it but the person who is acting for them. Banks can issue cards to attorneys and allow them internet access, so it is clear who is doing what.
Doctors and social workers need to work with attorneys in the best interests of the person who appointed the attorney so that the attorney can be their voice.
A Power of Attorney is easily set up and we can advise, not only on who to appoint, but how to appoint them as well as when attorneys are to act. We include letters of wishes where the person making the power can set out what they want to happen.
It is much better and simpler to plan your estate within the legal parameters rather than have family tensions and arguments over who should do what.
For more information about powers of attorney, see here.