MSF to ramp up efforts to raise awareness about Lasting Power of Attorney

The Ministry of Social and Family Development is working with the Ministry of Health to promote the importance of planning early. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - About 30,000 people under 50 have drawn up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) since 2010 but more Singaporeans need to get on board, said Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua on Tuesday (July 6).

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is working with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to promote the importance of planning early and there are plans to launch a digital campaign as well, he added.

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

To get more seniors to sign an LPA, Silver Generation Ambassadors will put them in touch with Citizen Connect Centres - found at community centres islandwide - and the Integrated Public Service Centre at Our Tampines Hub.

Mr Chua was responding to MPs at the close of the debate on the Bill to amend the Mental Capacity Act in Parliament on Tuesday.

In his speech, he addressed questions in five key areas raised by 19 MPs during the two-day debate, which started on Monday.

First, Mr Chua said support will be provided for those who need help navigating digital services. Seniors can ask their family members for help and learn how to tap tools like the Singpass' multi-user SMS two-factor authentication, or 2FA, he said.

Responding to Ms Hany Soh (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) and Mr Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC), he added that there will be description boxes to explain legal terms on the Office of the Public Guardian Online (Opgo) site and instructions for drawing up an LPA will also be available in the vernacular languages.

For those who have trouble moving about or are in prison, LPA certificate issuers can visit them to certify their LPAs, he added. Officers from the Office of the Public Guardian can also visit the homes of those who are disabled, and help them with their applications, he added.

Second, Mr Chua addressed questions about the Opgo site. For instance, he said access to confidential information contained in the LPA will be restricted such that only donors, donees and those with authorisation can access the information.

Others will need to get the Public Guardian's approval to search the LPA register.

Third, Mr Chua touched on questions related to cyber-security measures taken to ensure LPAs are not compromised.

He said the Opgo site will be placed within the government commercial cloud, which is protected with robust cyber-security measures and systems to protect data.

Fourth, there will be a raft of safeguards to protect donors, donees and other officials, Mr Chua said. For example, although the process will go online, key safeguards requiring donors to execute the LPA in the presence of the certificate issuer will remain in place. This, he said, ensures that the donor has the mental capacity to make the LPA, and that the donee appointed is the person intended by the donor.

Fifth, Mr Chua touched on simplifying the process of appointing a deputy, saying more can be done, and the authorities are looking at options. A deputy is appointed by the court after a person has lost his mental capacity, unlike a donee, who is appointed by a donor when he still has his mental capacity.

In response to concerns on costs raised by Ms Cheryl Chan (East Coast GRC), Ms Soh, and Mr Tay, Mr Chua said there will be no additional costs incurred when making an LPA electronically. A fee waiver for the LPA Form 1, the standard form used by about 98 per cent of Singaporeans, has also been extended to March 31, 2023, he added.

The Government will review whether fees can be waived permanently, he said.

During the debate on Tuesday, Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said seniors who lived alone face a risk of being cheated and called for additional safeguards for donors.

He said: "With the increasing number of singles and our rapidly ageing population, the number of such vulnerable, and usually elderly, donors is likely to increase. We have already had cases of opportunistic donees in the past.

"There is certainly no lack of predatory scammers looking to gain the trust of lonely elderly persons to take advantage of them. I appeal to the ministry to consider implementing additional measures to screen potential donees for the protection of donors."

Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said having donees who are non-family members or no longer directly related, due to divorce or remarriage for example, may give rise to potential misunderstanding or future conflict.

"It would be useful to consider requiring certificate issuers to meet potential donees in person too; and not just the donors," he said.

Mr Chua said MSF is working closely with MOH to encourage citizens to plan early and make the LPAs and Advance Care Plans together.

Advance Care Planning is a national programme that aims to empower Singaporeans to choose how they would like to be cared for.

Addressing clarifications from Ms Chan and Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) on whether transactions may rely on hardcopy LPAs containing errors, Mr Chua said such errors are highly unlikely as OPG has checked through all scanned copies of existing registered LPAs to minimise risk of errors.

Responding to the suggestions by Ms Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Mr Zhulkarnain to consider at least one meeting between donors, donees and certificate issuers, Mr Chua said the Government was trying to strike a balance between safeguards and convenience in the process.

"It may be difficult for donors and donees to arrange a common time and place, given our work and family commitments. This is especially so if the donees are overseas at the time of the donor's execution of the LPA. We wish to retain this convenience so that the LPA-making process is as accessible as possible," he said.

Noting that the take-up rate of LPAs has been rising rapidly, Mr Chua said that Opgo is yet another step to facilitate the LPA-making process.

"The LPA is an important pre-planning tool in ensuring peace of mind not only for ourselves but also for our families, as they will know our wishes and can carry them out if we were to lose mental capacity," he added.

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