The South Australian government is being urged to join Victoria and Queensland in banning paid carers and anyone involved in a person’s professional or administrative care from being granted power of attorney.

David Plater

The recommendation, designed to protect against elder abuse, is contained in a recently released South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) report on enduring powers of attorney EPA which was handed to Attorney-General Vickie Chapman on January 19.

SALRI says it has come across many examples where EPAs have been abused and where attorneys have acted against the interests of the people who trusted them to manage their affairs.

The report makes 120 recommendations to protect the rights of older people in relation to EPAs including ruling out “a paid carer or anyone involved in a professional or administrative capacity in the principal’s care and treatment or in the provision of accommodation to the principal”.

Deputy Director of SALRI, the University of Adelaide’s Dr David Plater, says EPAs  can be an important expression of autonomy and a valuable legal instrument when used appropriately.

“But if the trust placed on an attorney is abused by them, then the effect of financial impropriety on a principal’s financial security can be a permanent and life-threatening setback,” he said.

Andrew Simpson, national head of wills and estates at law firm Maurice Blackburn, says considerable trust is invested in an enduring power of attorney, and any breach of that trust can have significant consequences.

He says the firm is aware of cases where a paid carer holding a person’s power of attorney has misused that power for their own benefit, such as taking money, transferring assets and incurring debt.

“A power of attorney is one of the most important documents you’ll ever make. If you lose capacity, that person will potentially have complete control over all decisions relating to you and your affairs,” Mr Simpson said.

“Giving a paid carer power over the affairs of the vulnerable person they are paid to look after is in our view a dangerous blurring of professional and personal lines that increases the risk of financial abuse.”

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