Although the cautionary tale I am about to tell uses a fictional character called Jan, the scenario is based on a series of events that can unfortunately happen to seniors when choosing their enduring power of attorney.

“Jan” started thinking about appointing a power of attorney who could make personal and financial decisions on her behalf, just in case one day there was a situation or a series of events where she would not be able to make those decisions herself.

When she raised choosing a power of attorney with her son, Francis, they discussed the types of decisions that might be needed to be made, including engaging services to assist Jan with her daily living, if that became necessary. However, Francis told his mother it would be silly to waste her money paying a stranger to care for her when he would be available to support her and was more than willing to assist.

Jan explained that she wanted to maintain her privacy by engaging a professional carer rather than her son. Francis still insisted that it would be much better for Jan if he looked after her, and said that he was the type of son that would always care for his mum.

Trusting your instincts

While Francis had good intentions, Jan’s instincts told her that apart from not wanting her son to be undertaking personal caring, he was also very busy and maybe unreliable. A little concerned, she decided to run it past her friend, Sophia. Sophia listened and asked questions to understand Jan’s wishes and preferences - as a long-time friend she understood how important privacy is to Jan. Sophia said she would be happy to arrange services for Jan if that became necessary and if that is what she wanted.

Due to cultural and family expectations, Jan initially felt that she needed to appoint a family member, her older son, as a power of attorney. Following the conversation with her friend, Jan appointed Sophia as a power of attorney for personal and financial decisions.

This scenario shows how important it is that you trust the person or people you appoint, and that they have the ability to manage finances well, stay calm in a crisis, are confident to speak up on your behalf and willing to listen to and act on your wishes and preferences rather than their own.

As I talk to seniors across Victoria, I come across real stories similar to the pressures faced by Jan. But they are stories we hope to hear a lot less as more seniors become aware of their rights and are equipped with good information on choosing a power of attorney.

Plain-English help

Your voice – Trust your choice is a plain-English guide for seniors making enduring powers of attorney. The guide – a joint project between the Office of the Public Advocate and my office, and funded by the Victorian Government – is just one part of an awareness-raising campaign to ensure seniors have the support they need when making an enduring power of attorney.

The guide covers ways to plan ahead, how to choose someone you trust to make decisions for you, how to decide what powers to give, how to decide when the powers will start, helpful tips and sample wording, completing the enduring power of attorney form and where to get help.

Importantly, the enduring message is: it’s your voice and trust your choice. Equipped with the right information, and planning early, is a great way to ensure that your wishes are respected when you are no longer able to make decisions.

Your voice – trust your choice

On 22 June 2017 the Commissioner for Senior Victorians launched Your voice – Trust your choice: tips for seniors making enduring powers of attorney – alongside the Office of the Public Advocate in his role as Ambassador for Elder Abuse Prevention.

An enduring power of attorney is where you give someone you trust the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf. Unfortunately, in some cases family members, carers or friends put pressure on an older person to be appointed as power of attorney, and then take advantage of the authority – this is a form of elder abuse. The booklet explains how to choose someone to be your power of attorney, your rights, sample wording, what to do if you are being pressured or experience conflict of interest, and where to go for help. It is a companion booklet to the OPA’s Taking control: a guide for making enduring powers of attorney.

Download a copy of Your voice – Trust your choice: tips for seniors making enduring powers of attorney booklet