The founder of will-writing software firm WillSuite has obtained what he believes is the first ever digital lasting power of attorney (LPA).
Seb Shakh said the process, from creation of a digital version of the LPA form which could be signed on screen to registration, took five months.
He said the Office for the Public Guardian (OPG) had been under “a lot of pressure” since the start of lockdown as families sought ways of helping elderly relatives trapped at home.
Mr Shakh said the experiment was launched in March this year, when it became clear that the lockdown was coming and “this was going to create to surge in demand for LPAs”.
He told Legal Futures that he would ideally have liked to design an online LPA which could have been signed biometrically, possibly via a thumb print.
Instead a special online version of the property and financial affairs LPA was created, which could be signed on the screen “with a squiggle” from a mouse.
The form was then printed off, as the OPG requires, and sent to the OPG in mid-March with a covering letter explaining that the form had been signed electronically.
Nothing happened for two months until 13 May 2020, when the OPG responded, asking for payment. The fee of £82 was paid.
Two months later, in mid-July, the donor, Mr Shakh, and the attorney, his mother, received the initial notice stating intention to register the power of attorney and providing the right for objection.
After a further month, and after the three-week notice period, the registered LPA including the electronic signatures and OPG’s stamp was received.
Mr Shakh said he had since written to the OPG for clarification that the LPA was put through deliberately and asked whether they would accept more digital LPAs.
“Why do we have to do this by printing out a form?” he asked. “It would save everyone a lot of time and hassle if things could be done electronically. The process should take weeks rather than months.”
Mr Shakh said he had also asked the OPG if powers of attorney could be witnessed online.
Wills witnessed remotely via video link are due to become legal in England and Wales next month. The government has said the measure will last until March 2022 and will apply retrospectively to include wills witnessed on video from 31 January 2020.
Mr Shakh launched a new company last autumn, Love Legal, which enables law firms to offer clients online wills and powers of attorney, either through the Love Legal brand or their own.
He said he would not advise other people to attempt to obtain digital LPAs because, in guidance updated in June this year, the OPG had said that digital signatures could not be used. Further clarification would be needed to know if this approach had changed.
Under his LPA, his mother now has power of attorney over his property and finances. “I trust her completely,” he added.