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Some hiring professionals to make care decisions in later years

Donees can decide on matters like care arrangements if clients lose mental capacity

Theresa Tan on 19 Feb 2020

The Straits Times


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Mary, an 80-year-old childless widow, is concerned about who will look after her if she becomes mentally incapacitated and unable to care for herself.


Last October, she hired Ms Julia Lee, senior director of Touch Professional Deputies and Donees, to act as her professional donee and make decisions on her behalf if she were to lose her mental capacity.


These decisions could include arrangements for her care, as well as renting or selling her three-room flat to pay for her nursing home stay.


Mary (not her real name) said: "My two sisters are also elderly and they need people to take care of them.


"So I think it's better to get a professional donee to take care of me."


She came to know Ms Lee, 57, through Touch Community Services, which Touch Professional Deputies and Donees comes under.


Mary, who receives several home-care services from Touch such as meals delivery, said: "I trust Julia and Touch Community Services as I've known them for a long time."


Ms Lee has met Mary three to four times since she was appointed to find out her wishes and preferences when it comes to her care arrangements. It includes the food and music she likes.


The social worker of 35 years said: "Even if she loses her mental capacity, she has to carry on living, and I can tell the care staff the food and music she likes (so the staff can try to give them to her)."


The Professional Deputies and Donees scheme was launched in September 2018 by the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) Office of the Public Guardian, which protects the interests of the mentally incapacitated.


Under the scheme, someone who is now mentally sound can hire a professional donee to make decisions on his behalf should he lose mental capacity, for example, through dementia, in future.


The appointment is formalised through a legal document called the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).


If an LPA is not done before the person loses his mental faculties, the courts can appoint a professional deputy to make decisions on his behalf.


The scheme was started because family units were shrinking and, at the same time, there was a growing number of singles who may not have family members or close friends to be their proxy decision-makers.


Since the scheme was launched, only eight individuals have hired a professional donee, an MSF spokesman told The Straits Times.


One professional deputy has been granted a deputyship order by the courts.


Professional deputies can apply to the courts to act for an individual who has lost his mental capacity.


A professional deputy can also act as a professional donee.


"As this is a new scheme, time was required to train our pool of professional deputies and donees and for them to set up their business processes to provide and publicise this new service. The overall numbers to date are increasing," the MSF spokesman said.


Chartered accountant Francis Chan, who is a registered deputy and donee, said that generally, people are reluctant to pay for a service that they may not use in the future, such as that of a professional donee.


Most people would also get a family member to act as their donee instead of paying a professional to do so, said the registered professional deputies and donees interviewed.


The costs involved may also discourage some from hiring a professional donee.


The MSF described the scheme as a nascent industry driven by market forces and the fees charged are based on the scope of work required by each client and vary from case to case.


Its spokesman said that in the case of professional donees, as they are hired by the person when he is still mentally sound, both parties will mutually agree on the fees chargeable.


For professional deputies, the court will determine if the proposed fees charged are reasonable.


The MSF has previously said it will not set fee guidelines.


Lawyer Haryadi Hadi said he has one client in her 50s who is single and has hired him to act as her professional donee.


The client has no suitable family member to play the role.


He said the fees he charges are on a case-to-case basis, depending on the case's complexity.


Fees can either be charged based on an hourly rate or a percentage of the person's estate.


Mr Hadi's hourly rate is about $500 per hour.


Touch Professional Deputies and Donees charges a one-time set-up fee of $500 to hire its staff to act as a professional donee, plus a $150 annual fee to review, update or maintain the person's healthcare and financial matters.


If the LPA is activated, the charges will be at $250 per hour and this may vary, depending on the complexity of the case and scope of work needed.


It has six clients to date for the donee service, including singles and divorcees.


Some of them have strained family ties, while others do not want to trouble their loved ones or they feel their family members are reluctant to take up this responsibility.


Besides social workers, only those from selected professions - such as lawyers, doctors, accountants and allied health professionals who meet certain criteria and pass a certification course - can apply to be registered as a professional deputy.


They must have a good credit rating and no conviction for certain crimes, such as cheating.


These professions are chosen as the practitioners have the necessary skills and experience to handle decisions on behalf of the mentally incapacitated, the MSF has previously said.


They are also regulated, which means they have to meet certain standards of discipline, accountability and professionalism.


These professional deputies and donees must also not be related to the person they are acting on behalf of, to avoid any conflict of interest.


As of December last year, there were 39 individuals and one licensed trust company registered as professional deputies and donees.


In May this year, the third round of certification training for those hoping to be registered as professional deputies and donees is scheduled to start.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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