SINGAPORE — The Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) has emerged as a crucial legal instrument in Singapore that empowers individuals to safeguard their preferences and well-being, even in times of incapacitation.
For 39-year-old Seline Cai, her wake-up call came earlier this year when her uncle passed away due to a heart condition. As she helped manage his affairs, she learned about the LPA and the significance of expressing one's wishes clearly.
Recognising the growing aging population and the taboo surrounding such discussions, she initiated a conversation with her 73-year-old mother about making an LPA. Her belief is that preparing for the future can alleviate the burden on loved ones should mental capacity diminish.
She said, "With my uncle's passing, I think that really had an impact on me. Even when one passes on, or especially when one is still around but does not have the mental capacity, the people living with them are the ones who will face a lot of question marks: What to do? What can I do?
"When it comes to the will and LPA, there is still some taboo for us to start the conversation. But now, with the aging population, many of us need to take care of our elderly parents and face more health issues while taking care of them."
Lengthy, costly process without LPA
In the case of 54-year-old Gordon Goh, his sister was diagnosed with an advanced stage of dementia. Without an LPA in place, the family had to undergo a lengthy and costly process, taking six to seven months and costing $7,200, to apply for deputyship to make decisions on her behalf.
After witnessing the struggles and expenses involved, Goh decided to make his LPA and encouraged his wife, parents, in-laws and friends to do the same.
"For deputyship, there's a lot of paperwork involved. So I had to dig out a lot of things and try to find items like bank statements and evidence of a bank statement," he shared.
"Even things like house ownership, and I even have to get her birth certificate, my birth certificate, and my parents' marriage certificate to prove the relationship. I had to gather a lot of evidence and statements... okay, I went through it, but it didn't even help my sister recover."
Realising the importance of planning, Gordon also informed his loved ones about the importance of LPA. He recounted how his cousin, upon witnessing his sister's situation, decided to create a will, but soon realised its limitations.
A will only comes into effect after death, making it insufficient for situations where a person is alive but unable to make decisions. Hence, he added that his cousin promptly established an LPA as well, understanding the need for such legal arrangements.
The growing acceptance of LPA
As per the official data provided by the Office of the Public Guardian, a total of more than 220,000 LPA applications have been received as of May 2023.
Among these applications, 77 per cent were made by individuals aged 50 and above. Notably, the online application system, launched in November 2022, has seen a successful submission of over 57,000 applications to date.
This growing acceptance of LPA highlights a change in mindset and a recognition of the necessity for future planning. Dr Raymond Ong, head of medical experience at Great Eastern and an accredited LPA certifier, has also observed a shifting trend.
He explained, "Younger people are more keen to do LPAs now. Initially, it was primarily individuals in their 40s actively planning for retirement. However, we are now seeing young adults and even unmarried individuals taking action to secure their future."
The perception of LPA has evolved from being primarily financially focused to recognising its profound impact on personal and social aspects of life. "LPA goes beyond financial planning; it addresses personal care and ensures individuals' ideas, concerns, and expectations are expressed and respected," Dr Ong said.
Singaporeans still uninformed about pre-planning
However, a survey conducted by the Public Service Division (PSD) in April revealed that there is significant room for improvement in raising awareness about LPA and Advance Care Plans (ACP) among Singaporeans.
The LPA is a legal document that designates someone to make decisions on your behalf if you become mentally incapacitated. In contrast, ACP involves discussing and documenting your medical treatment preferences and end-of-life care wishes in advance.
The survey involving 1,000 Singapore citizens aged 30 to 79 found that 64 per cent of respondents were aware of LPA, while only 28 per cent knew about ACP.
Among those who had not taken steps to create their LPA or ACP, several key barriers were identified, including a lack of consideration, with 27 per cent of respondents indicating they had not thought about making an LPA, and 34 per cent stating the same for ACP.
Additionally, 13 per cent of participants found the process of creating these plans too troublesome, while 11 per cent and 20 per cent cited a lack of knowledge on how to make their LPA and ACP, respectively.
Moreover, some respondents believed there was no urgency to create these plans as they considered themselves to be in good health (11 per cent for LPA and 15 per cent for ACP).
Singapore government launches new campaign to boost awareness
To overcome the identified barriers and increase awareness about LPA and ACP, Singapore's government is launching an extensive campaign led by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), with support from other ministries and government agencies including Ministry of Social and Family Development, Ministry of Health and PSD.
The campaign commenced with the official launch on Saturday (22 July), which included the unveiling of a television commercial titled "Scissors, Paper, Stone," directed by filmmaker Royston Tan.
The ad features a short film depicting three friends choosing certainty through LPA and ACP, utilising a nostalgic childhood game to emphasise the significance of planning for the future.
To promote accessibility, the launch will feature onsite activity booths and mobile clinics at Our Tampines Hub, offering complimentary LPA certification and ACP facilitation sessions for Singaporean citizens aged 50 and above. These activities will be expanded to reach citizens across the entire island.
Starting from this month, the government will implement several initiatives to promote pre-planning awareness, including anchor roadshows with interactive booths and talks, monthly mobile clinics offering free LPA certification and ACP facilitation, and collaboration with partners to increase awareness.
Workshops will also be conducted at Active Ageing Centres to generate interest in pre-planning further.
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