Who can be an attorney in Northern Ireland?

You can choose anyone you want to be your attorney, as long as they are 18 or over and are not bankrupt. You can have as many attorneys as you wish but it is usual to have between one and four.

Your attorney will have very important decisions to make, and a lot of responsibility to make choices that reflect your wishes. You should choose someone who knows you well, who you trust to make these decisions for you, is reliable and has the skills to carry out the role. Think about how well they manage their own finances. 

Most people choose a family member or a close friend to be their attorney.  This person may not be needed to make decisions until some time in the future. Take this into account when you are thinking about who to ask – someone younger may be appropriate.

Talk to the person you want to appoint as your attorney before you make the EPA. You can tell them about your wishes and preferences and you can make sure that they are happy about taking on the role. 

You can also choose a professional, such as an accountant or solicitor to be your attorney. A professional will charge for their time and these charges will vary. Talk to the professional before you make the LPA to understand the costs and what will be involved. 

What an attorney has to do 

Anyone you appoint as an attorney has certain duties when they are making decisions for you. They must:

  • act in your best interests 
  • consider your past and present wishes and feelings 
  • keep you involved in any decisions they make, as far as you can be 
  • not take advantage of you to benefit themselves 
  • keep records and keep your money and property separate from their own.

Your attorney must consider whether you have mental capacity to make a decision for yourself before making it for you. They should assume that you have that capacity unless it is shown otherwise.

If they don’t think you have capacity to make a decision, they should think about whether you could make it at another time in the future. They should also consider if it’s possible to delay the decision until you can make it. 

Your attorney might need to give you extra support so that you can make the decision yourself, for example by using different types of communication such as pictures. 
If your attorney doesn’t behave as they should, the EPA could be cancelled.

The OCP doesn’t actively monitor the way an attorney acts under the EPA. But if your attorney takes advantage of you or isn’t acting in your best interests, this can be reported to the OCP who will look into it. In serious cases the attorney could also be prosecuted. 

Having multiple attorneys 

If you choose to have more than one attorney (for example, your children, if you have more than one) you must decide how your attorneys should act. They can make decisions together (‘jointly’) or both separately and together (‘jointly and severally’). 

  • Jointly – this means that the attorneys must always act together, so they must agree on all decisions and all sign documents. If one of them dies or resigns, the EPA is no longer valid, as the law doesn’t allow for replacements. If your original attorney(s) are unable to act you can appoint new ones, but you would need to have the mental capacity to do that at the time. 
  • Jointly and severally – attorneys can act together, but can also act on their own. If an attorney dies or resigns, the surviving attorney(s) can still act.

It can be helpful to have more than one attorney so that they can share decision-making and bring different points of view to the role.

This can be particularly useful if you own a property with someone who is your attorney. In this situation, if the property needs to be sold, it can become complicated and you should seek legal advice. Having another attorney, who does not have a share in the property, and who can act ‘jointly and severally’ with the first attorney, can make things easier. 

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