SINGAPORE - A scheme that allows people to pay registered professionals, such as lawyers and social workers, to act on their behalf should they become mentally incapacitated in the future was launched on Friday (Sept 21).
This comes as families become smaller and a small but growing number of people, such as singles, may not have family members or close friends to be their proxy decision makers, said Minister of State for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Sam Tan.
He made the comments as he launched the Professional Deputies and Donees scheme on Friday at the Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru.
Under the scheme, someone who is mentally sound can hire and appoint a person, called a professional donee, to make decisions on his behalf should he lose his mental capacity in the future. The appointment is formalised through a legal document called the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).
If an individual had not done an LPA before losing his mental faculties, the court can appoint a person, called a professional deputy, to make decisions on his behalf.
These professional deputies and donees must not be related to the person they are acting on behalf of, to avoid any conflict of interest.
The Mental Capacity Act was amended in 2016 to allow for these paid professional deputies and donees. On Friday, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) gave some updates about the scheme at the Enabling Village.
For one thing, it will not regulate the fees charged by these professionals.
It said that the remuneration for services will be based on the scope of work for each client. Besides, the assets and tasks required may vary greatly among clients, which would result in varying fees.
For professional donees, the person asking for the service and the professional donee will have to agree on the fees, as the person is still mentally sound. For professional deputies, the court will decide if the fees proposed by the professional deputy are reasonable.
An MSF spokesman said that the ministry will not provide any guidelines for fees, adding: "We will not be setting guidelines, as we want this nascent industry to grow."
She added that some may be put off from taking up the role if they find the fee guidelines not to their expectations.
Another update is that both professional deputies and professional donees have to submit reports to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), which comes under the MSF, to account for the decisions made and expenses incurred in carrying out their duties. The OPG, which protects the interests of the mentally incapacitated, administers the scheme.
Previously, only professional deputies have to submit these reports.
The MSF spokesman explained that both professional deputies and professional donees charge for their services and the standards demanded of them should not be any different.
Asked if safeguards to protect those who are mentally incapacitated are sufficient, the MSF spokesman said that they are and highlighted the steps the ministry has taken to ensure this.
For a start, only those from selected professions - such as lawyers, accountants, and healthcare and social service professionals - who meet certain criteria and pass a certification course that prepares them for the role can apply to be registered as professional deputies. A professional deputy can also act as a professional donee.
The criteria include having a good credit rating, not being undischarged bankrupts and not having been convicted of certain crimes, such as cheating.
These professions were chosen as they have the necessary skills and experience to competently handle decisions on behalf of the mentally incapacitated, the OPG spokesman said previously. These professions are also regulated, which requires them to meet certain standards of discipline, accountability and professionalism.
That aside, the OPG stressed that it takes all complaints seriously and will take action against any donee or deputy who is found to have abused their powers.
Lawyers interviewed by The Straits Times had mixed views over the lack of fee guidelines.
Lawyer Kwok-Chern Yew Tee felt it would be difficult, if not impossible, to set guidelines, given that each case is different.
She added: "The immediate concern is overcharging. However, if nobody knows what is a reasonable fee, how do we ascertain what is overcharging? I think in time to come, with demand and supply, an equilibrium range (of fees) will evolve."
Lawyer Ng Bin Hong, registered professional deputy, felt that fee guidelines will be useful so that the professionals know if the fees they are charging are reasonable.
So far, 13 people have been registered as professional deputies.
For a list of registered professional deputies and donees, please visit this website.