New online portal for LPAs to come with measures prevent abuse and fraud under proposed changes to law

There has been a steady rise in the number of people inking a Lasting Power of Attorney. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new one-stop electronic portal to help people draw up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) more easily will come with measures in place to prevent abuse and fraud under proposed changes to the law.

Called the Office of the Public Guardian Online (Opgo), it can also be used to file a deputy report with the Office of the Public Guardian, among other things.

A deputy is appointed by the court after a person has lost mental capacity, unlike a donee, who is appointed by a donor when he still has mental capacity.

On Monday (July 5), in a speech at the second reading of a Bill to amend the Mental Capacity Act, Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua said the pandemic has highlighted the need for people to plan ahead.

He said: "It is wise to pre-plan and have peace of mind knowing that we have entrusted our well-being to a person who will act in our best interests, should the need arise.

"Making our LPAs early will also make the caregiving journey less stressful for our loved ones, who will be spared the stressful and costlier process of obtaining a court order to be appointed as a deputy."

A lasting power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person aged at least 21 to voluntarily appoint a donee or multiple donees to make decisions and act on their behalf if they lose mental capacity.

In his speech in Parliament, Mr Chua cited the case of two residents.

Retiree Low Kim Leng, 69, and his wife drew up LPAs after seeing how it helped relatives with dementia make sure their own affairs were taken care of.

And Mr Francis Ng, a 60-year-old semi-retiree, had to go through some inconvenience to become his father's deputy. His father did not make an LPA before losing mental capacity.

There has been a steady rise in the number of people inking an LPA, from 2,681 in 2014 to 21,552 last year. And although more than 40,000 LPAs are expected to be registered by this year, many who may need it still have not signed up for one.

In his speech, Mr Chua said a key plank of the proposed Bill is to protect donors against fraud. He said: "If the Public Guardian has reason to suspect that fraud or undue pressure has been used to induce a donor to execute an LPA or appoint a particular person as his donee, the Public Guardian may disclose to the donor the number of LPAs which have appointed the person as donee."

The Public Guardian can also reveal the number of applications made to appoint someone as donee, he added.

One benefit of the new online system, Mr Chua said, is that donees who are overseas and unable to return to Singapore can get an LPA done without needing to provide signatures in person before a witness or affix physical seals on the LPAs.

The processing time for an LPA is expected to be cut down from an average of three weeks to eight working days with the new system, excluding a three-week mandatory waiting period. Donors and donees will be notified by text messages or e-mail about the registration status of the LPA.

To ensure that an LPA is properly made by a donor and not an impersonator, Mr Chua said the amendments retain the critical requirement for the donor to execute the LPA before a certificate issuer.

He said: "The certificate issuer will need to certify that the donor understands the purpose of the LPA and the scope of the authority conferred under it, the donor is not under undue pressure or duress to make the LPA, and that there is nothing else which would prevent the LPA from being created."

Mr Chua added that errors discovered in the LPA can be rectified by the Public Gaurdian even after 90 days.

As Opgo will be a one-stop system, Mr Chua said donors and donees will also be able to access the registered LPA online and request certified true copies of the LPA.

Deputies can also tap the system, making use of an online finance tracker to manage the incapacitated person's income and expenses and access reports and supporting documents.

Addressing concerns that the amendments will affect Singaporeans who are not digitally savvy, Mr Chua said Opgo would be made as user-friendly as possible, with help available at various community touchpoints for those in need.

He said: "Individuals may approach their nearest Citizen Connect Centre located at selected community centres, or the Public Service Centre at Our Tampines Hub.

"We also welcome other community partners to work with us to bring more on board, as we begin this digitalisation journey."

Other measures to make the platform more accessible include videos to guide users on making an LPA, prompts in the four official languages and a text-to-speech function for users with vision problems.

Mr Chua said: "It is my hope that Singaporeans will leverage this digital transformation to make their LPAs safely, conveniently, and expediently. We will walk this journey with our citizens to ensure that everyone can take advantage of Opgo."

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