How does an EPA work?

When planning ahead it is important to choose the most appropriate person or people to make decisions on your behalf if you can’t make those decisions on your own. Your legally-recognised decision maker is called an attorney. You appoint them by completing an Enduring Power of Attorney. This document is a formal document giving one or more people you trust the authority to make personal, medical and/or financial decisions on your behalf, particularly about your care and welfare, if you are unable to do so yourself. Despite the legal title, attorneys don’t need any legal training to perform this role.

While people you love and trust are probably already involved in many aspects of your life, there are situations where they will be unable to speak for you or make decisions on your behalf unless they have the legal authority to do so. This is why an Enduring Power of Attorney document is important.

You can complete your form yourself or get advice and help from others, for example, from a solicitor.

As part of the process you may also consider what health care choices you would make in the future. You can use your Enduring Power of Attorney to give someone the authority to make decisions about your health but if you want to give specific, detailed guidance about your future health care wishes, you may want to complete an Advance Health Directive.

You should talk with your family and friends about what you would like to happen in the future and what’s important to you. This gives everyone a chance to explore who should play a part in your plan and who is best equipped to help if needed.

What decisions can my attorney make for me?

  • You choose what powers you give to your attorney(s).
    • Personal decisions relate to your care and welfare, including your health care (e.g. deciding where you live, who you live with or consent to medical treatments).
    • Financial decisions relate to money and assets (e.g. paying your bills and taxes, selling or renting your home, using your income to pay for your needs or investing your money).
  • You can choose to give your attorney(s) the power to make decisions about:
    • all your financial and personal/health care matters
    • some specific financial or personal matters
    • only your financial matters
    • only your personal matters.

You can also add to an attorney’s power, or limit it, and give detailed instructions for them to follow. If you choose more than one person to act as your attorney, you can choose to give them all the same or different areas of responsibility for decisions. For example, one attorney could make decisions about your finances and another, who has a better understanding of your health care wishes, could make decisions about your welfare and health treatments.

If you decide to appoint a number of people as your attorneys, you can specify how decisions can be made:

  • severally - any one of them may decide
  • jointly - all must agree
  • as a majority - if you are appointing more than three attorneys, you would need to specify, e.g. ‘simple majority’, ‘two-thirds majority’
  • other - meaning that you define how the various attorneys decide. (The Powers of Attorney Act 1998 allows you to appoint successive attorney/s for a matter so the power is given to a particular attorney only when power to a previous attorney ends. You can also nominate the circumstances when a power will end e.g. ‘if X dies, then Y may act’).

Note that if you choose to appoint joint attorneys you can only appoint a maximum of four for a matter (so you could appoint four attorneys to act jointly four personal matters, and up to four attorneys to act jointly for financial matters).