COST-EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS FOR FAMILIES OF INDIVIDUALS OF LOW- VALUE ESTATE WITHOUT LASTING POWER OF ATTORNEY ARRANGEMENT

At MPS, I dealt with several cases involving caregivers of individuals who lack mental capacity. The caregivers pointed out that they are unable to access the Government grants like GST Cash Voucher provided to the individuals as they are not appointed as deputies under the Mental Capacity Act. I therefore asked the Minister for Social and Family Development whether for low-value estates of individuals who have not made LPAs and lack mental capacities, the Public Guardian may administer the estate in lieu of getting the caregivers to apply to the Court to be appointed as deputies. This is akin to the current administration of low-value estates of deceased persons by the Public Trustee. The Minister in his reply highlighted the possibility of conflict of interest as the Public Guardian administers persons vested with powers to manage the affairs of individuals with no mental capacities. I will follow up separately to suggest that the Public Trustee be given the power to administer low value estate of mentally unsound persons to deal with the conflict-of-interest point raised by the Minister. My PQ and the Minister’s answer may be accessed below.

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Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Social and Family Development whether the Public Guardian may be vested with the power to administer low-value estates of individuals who have not made Lasting Powers of Attorney and lack mental capacities, so as to provide more cost-effective solutions for families of these individuals to manage their affairs instead of making applications to court to be appointed as deputies.

Mr Masagos Zulkifli B M M: The Mental Capacity Act (MCA) provides for the appointment of donees or deputies to manage the property and affairs of individuals who lack mental capacity. Under the MCA, the Public Guardian is responsible for dealing with representations, including complaints, about the way in which donees or deputies exercise their powers. Hence, it would not be appropriate for the Public Guardian to also manage the property and affairs of individuals who have not made a Lasting Power of Attorney and have lost their mental capacity. To do so would put the Public Guardian in a position of conflict of interest.

To make applying for deputyship more affordable for families, the Family Justice Courts has introduced a Simplified Track since 2019. Family members applying for general orders through the Simplified Track typically ask for and are granted powers to consent to medical and dental treatment, care arrangements, and manage bank/CPF accounts and insurance policies. The cost of the Simplified Track is around $540, comprising a $40 court filing fee and around $500 for mental capacity assessment (based on the fees charged by public hospitals). This is much lower than applying for complex orders through the Standard Track, which will incur both a higher court fee of up to $300, as well as legal fees charged by lawyers of between $3,000 to $9,000.

Additionally, to support families in need, MSF works with partners to facilitate access to pro bono or low-cost services. Such families can seek legal assistance from the Legal Aid Bureau, or support from the Community Justice Centre (a charity), if they are applying for deputyship without representation of a lawyer.

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Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.