The last thing a family needs when a loved one becomes seriously ill or can no longer look after their finances is a dispute over money.

But that's exactly what Jim McIlroy is seeing more of.

The manager of trustee services at Public Trust says the firm actively encourages people to consider appointing a person to handle their property and personal care decisions through an enduring power of attorney should they have a medical situation where they become unable to make a decision or just through old age.

"Most times it is fine. There are caring and responsible family members they trust and most times things go well."


But then there are the less frequent situations where an, often elderly, person is coerced into appointing someone to manage their finances, or lump sums go missing from the account which are only discovered after the person dies.

The family member declares it was a gift made to them in lieu of the help they have provided but there is no documentation to back that up.

Or in other situations the family tries to benefit themselves by gifting away money to various members to stop it being used to pay for rest home care.

McIlroy says his team at the Public Trust has seen it all and the best way to prevent it from happening is to have clear instructions which are communicated to all family members before the person loses their decision-making capacity.

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If there isn't a legal document in place and a person becomes unable to take care of their affairs families must apply to the court to get an order and this can be time-consuming and expensive at a time when most people would prefer to be looking after their loved one.

McIlroy says in those cases the person appointed to manage the finances is decided by the court and may not be the person who the family wants.

It can also cost over $1000 while in the meanwhile the assets of the person needing help are effectively frozen.


McIlroy says most people set up an enduring power of attorney document when they create a will and that can be at any age.

However it is typically when people reach older age that it gets activated and the problems can occur.

"Sometimes people have the best intentions but they don't understand all the rules and regulations around rest homes and gifting."

He says it's important when actions are taken that financial records are retained.

"If you have to apply for a subsidy WINZ can look to see whether you have deprived that person from income or assets."

"WINZ have got wide powers and they can refuse to apply a subsidy until family members have paid some [of the rest home costs]."

But he says probably the worst situations are when one family member transfers money to themselves and says it is a gift or money in lieu of the help they have provided.

"Unless there is a document to back it up it comes down to he said she said. It is hard to prove and disprove, a lot of it is a grey area."

McIlroy says they often get children of older people ringing up to ask if an enduring power of attorney has been set up but they can't be told anything without permission from the person they are calling about.

Enacting the document can require a medical certificate from a doctor.

McIlroy says other safety measures can include appointing an independent person to handle the affairs should there be a dispute or having an alternative if the person you appoint is of a similar age.