The attached article reports on South Australia’s review of their powers of attorney legislation, a reflection of our ageing population and the necessity to address an increase in elder abuse. Queensland recently underwent a similar process. Legislative initiatives are a step in the right direction, but what has persistently concerned me about the approach of policy makers, is the singular focus on simply making more law and no real support for the attorney. There is little to no focus on the need for education as to their responsibilities and risks and importantly their rights in the equation. All too often attorney missteps occur because they do not know the depth and complexities of the burden they take on when accepting their appointment and acting on it. It’s in the acceptance of the appointment where the missteps begin. Yet most donee attorneys simply do not realise they do not have to accept their appointment until it is absolutely necessary. Donee attorneys are undertaking these complex and difficult responsibilities for their disabled loved ones as a public service with little to no education or support – financial, psychological, and legal.
The recent changes to the QLD forms attempt to assist both the donor and donee with prompts and explanations throughout the document. The reality is though, the law is complex, and no one can simply digest hundreds of years of ongoing, constantly changing, legal precedent and analysis to a few notes in the margins of a proforma document and expect people not to falter. Human lives are complex, their needs are complex, their relationships are complex and the law is complex. In a society where the rates of dementia are frightening1, elder abuse problems will only continue to increase unless and until our volunteer attorneys are properly supported in the work they do in supporting our aging population.
The classic image of Justitia being blindfolded represents impartiality in the law, not blindness to possible solutions. To that end, is it not time for our governments to alter their focus from a punitive and reactive approach to an inclusive one where the donee attorney can also receive financial, psychological and legal advice without charge to them?