Course for those who help people who've lost mental capacity

Professionals trained to help those with no family to turn to when making decisions

A course has been launched to train professionals as support for individuals who have lost their mental capacity and have no immediate family to turn to for making decisions on their behalf.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) yesterday said registration was open for the first certification course for professional deputies and donees.

The course, developed by MSF in collaboration with the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), is for those who have relevant experience with mental capacity, such as lawyers, accountants as well as healthcare and social service professionals.

Under the Mental Capacity Act (MCA), individuals can appoint donees through the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) to act on their behalf should they become unable to do so themselves.

Last year, more than 95 per cent of donees appointed in LPAs, which are legal documents, were the donor's immediate or extended family. In cases where individuals have become incapacitated without appointing a donee , family members must apply to the courts to be appointed as deputy.

There will also be those who want to make an LPA, but do not have a strong family network or someone they trust to make decisions for them. These could be seniors who are single or widowed, or do not have children.

  • Details of new certification scheme

  • Criteria for enrolling in the certification course:

    • Relevant experience with mental capacity cases, or a continuous period of at least five years of experience in their respective fields of work.

    • No financial embarrassment (e.g. not undischarged bankrupts and must have a good credit rating).

    • Not be convicted of certain criminal offences such as crimes against a person or public order, or be the subject of a civil judgment involving breach of fiduciary duties.

    What the certification course covers:

    • Roles and responsibilities of a professional deputy, including professional conduct and ethics, and submission of annual reports.

    • How to handle financial matters for a person who has lost mental capacity, to ensure his resources are properly managed and material needs are met.

    • How to make decisions on personal welfare so needs and preferences are met.

    How members of the public can engage professional deputies to be their donees:

    • When the scheme is rolled out by the end of this year, a list of registered professional deputies will be published on the Office of the Public Guardian website for members of the public to approach their preferred professional to inquire about their services.

To fill such gaps, the MCA was revised in 2016 to allow professional deputies and donees to provide such services for a fee.

Professional deputies - appointed by the court for an individual without a donee prior to losing mental capacity - and donees - who are appointed by an individual who still has mental capacity - must not be related to the person they are appointed to act for.

The first four-day course, to be conducted at SUSS in July, will take up to 25 participants. The course fee - including examination - costs between $1,200 and $1,680, while to take the examination only costs $168.

MSF said it would monitor the demand for such services and calibrate the intake for the course, accordingly.

Mrs Sara Tan, 59, executive director of the Society of Sheng Hong Welfare Services, said the scheme would be useful for Life Point, a service centre under the non-profit organisation.

Mrs Tan and her seven staff members have expressed interest in the course.

She said: "We have encountered cases where the elderly cannot find suitable or trusted donees because they are single, widowed or have strained family relationships.

"As they have not assigned anybody to look after their financial and personal affairs, it is difficult to make timely arrangements, such as getting access to their bank accounts, or to meet immediate care needs."

She added that the scheme can provide an alternative option for those who wish to make an LPA but are constrained by personal circumstances.

"I foresee that it would gain greater momentum in future in view of the increase in the number of people who stay single."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2018, with the headline 'Course for those who help people who've lost mental capacity'. Print Edition | Subscribe