From Flour Power to powers of attorney
You may have seen private client senior solicitor Dara Kinloch on your TV screen back in June when she was one of four colleagues taking part in BBC Scotland’s Flour Power baking programme.
But on a normal day in the office (if there’s such a thing), Dara’s one of a group of lawyers — and the only one in Aberdeen — with a Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) qualification to specialise in older client law.
And why’s that important?
We know the population’s ageing. National Records of Scotland statistics published this month say in mid-2018 just under one in five people (19%) in Scotland were aged 65 and over, compared with 16% in mid-2008.
And while people born between 2015 and 2017 can expect to spend a higher proportion of their lives in good health than any other UK country, it’s likely demand for specialised support will increased.
That’s where SFE-accredited lawyers come in: they’re trained in older client care and are familiar with the physical, social and mental difficulties that can affect older people.
We spoke to Dara to find out more about this specialism and what the legal profession can do to help clients access the right support.
What were your drivers for achieving the qualification?
By having two grandparents who lived to a grand old age and a grandmother who’s still going strong at 95, I have witnessed first-hand the challenges and complications older clients face.
Whether it’s simply a case of offering access to a solicitor through a home visit or recognising a client recovering from a stroke has different communication needs and how to address this, my job is to make sure people have access to legal information so they have control over their own affairs.
What types of legal issues do older clients face?
Legal advice for older clients is usually tailored differently to take into consideration the different factors that affect them, whether financial, physical or otherwise. In addition to the usual legal services, we are also aware that older people often struggle with a number of non-legal issues and sometimes they don’t have access to the services or support they need.
Sometimes it’s as simple as increasing the font size of our letters to be read more clearly or arranging a notarial execution of a document for a client who can’t sign their name.
Importantly though, it’s about recognising that we shouldn’t write people off if they have a health issue such as a dementia diagnosis or a stroke: they may have different communication needs and capacity has to be assessed carefully and the approach adapted accordingly.
What types of things do older clients, their families, or powers of attorney need to be mindful of?
Communication is key to your wellbeing – this can be harder for some than others.
Perhaps the older client wants to discuss what they would like to happen, and the family isn’t ready to hear it. People without families may not be sure who they should speak to. A good rule of thumb is to at least make your attorneys and executors aware that you have chosen them so that they will be ready to step up, should the need arise.
It’s helpful to know of any particular wishes regarding medical treatment, accommodation, burial or funeral preferences. If you’re not able to have this discussion with your attorney or executor then consider writing things down.
Any myths that need debunking?
There is a fairly common misconception that powers of attorney are only for the elderly and that you put one in place if you’re not well. The fact is that you must have capacity to grant a power of attorney and so whether you’re 30, 40, 50 or over 60, you should give it some serious thought.
What types of things do you expect to be working on increasingly with older clients?
Our services are not restricted to legal expertise. Over the last several years there has been greater recognition of the gap in support for older clients who either don’t have family or whose relatives live far away. Ledingham Chalmers offers additional support services to meet those needs and fill the gap.
In basic terms, it’s important to remember the things we do for our clients that, on a day-to-day basis, we may take for granted can make a huge difference in helping people access the services and support they need to live life to the full.