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The Singapore Law Gazette

What Happens When A Loved One Loses Mental Capacity?

In 2023, close to 10% of the cases handled at Pro Bono SG’s Community Law Centres pertained to inquiries regarding deputyship and mental capacity.

When Mrs W (not her real name) sought assistance from Pro Bono SG’s Community Law Centre @ Realm of Tranquility in March 2024, her goal was to smoothly navigate the complexities of applying for deputyship, a process that she found overwhelming and unfamiliar without professional guidance. Her husband was hospitalised just a month before due to a severe heart condition, which led to subsequent medical complications rendering him brain dead and permanently disabled. Total permanent disability is marked by an inability to take part in any employment permanently, or the total permanent loss of physical function for any of the following: both eyes; two limbs; or one eye and one limb.

Helping Mrs W

Mrs W’s intended deputyship application was aimed at granting her the authority to manage her husband’s financial affairs, including accessing his Central Provident Fund (CPF) and bank accounts to cover his ongoing medical and nursing home expenses.

As his wife, Mrs W bore the primary responsibility for his care, underscoring her justification for seeking deputyship.

During consultations with Ms Sherah Tan, a Community Law Fellow with Pro Bono SG, Mrs W shared her apprehension in navigating the legal procedures independently.

Despite Mrs W’s calm demeanour about her predicament, Ms Tan could sense her underlying stress about the application process. Ms Tan recognised the anxiety and frustration Mrs W faced while trying to apply for deputyship, as the process required a certain level of technological proficiency and fluency in English, both of which were significant barriers for Mrs W.

Determined to help Mrs W overcome these challenges, Ms Tan guided Mrs W through the application process, including explaining the differences between the simplified and standard process, calmly and patiently.

Ms Tan meticulously explained each section of the deputyship application form, ensuring Mrs W understood the necessary details. This guidance included outlining the comprehensive list of liabilities and assets Mrs W needed to furnish. Additionally, Ms Tan also advised Mrs W on obtaining written consent from her husband’s family members regarding her deputyship application, thereby smoothing potential familial concerns and legal hurdles.

Most importantly, Ms Tan ensured Mrs W understood the intricacies of the legal process in applying for deputyship, empowering her to act in her husband’s best interests during this challenging time. Without the guidance from Pro Bono SG’s lawyers, Mrs W would have faced the daunting task of navigating these intricate legal requirements and gathering the necessary information on her own, exacerbated by a lack of understanding of the procedures involved as well as technological and language barriers.

The Frequency of Deputyship Cases

In her experience handling deputyship cases, Ms Tan has observed a recurring issue: the undue pressure placed on deputyship applicants, often by extended family members. She noted that this pressure is especially burdensome for senior women without children, who may find themselves thrust into the role of primary breadwinner without prior preparation.

“Extended family members can put undue pressure on deputyship applicants to step up, when it may be the case that they are not prepared to handle the financials of their spouses,” Ms Tan shared, drawing from her insights gleaned from past cases.

Ms Tan shared that cases on deputyship were fairly frequent, “In 2023, deputyship or mental capacity queries made up close to 10% of the cases we see at Pro Bono SG’s Community Law Centres. I imagine that with the ageing population, we are likely to see more enquiries about Deputyships and LPAs”, she added. Ms Tan also emphasised that a case like Mrs W’s could “just as easily be your relative who needs guidance through the process – not everyone has the know-how to apply for deputyship on their own”.

Pro Bono SG

Pro Bono SG is a registered charity with the status of an Institution of a Public Character. Since 2007, we have expanded our legal initiatives and programmes to help more than 150,000 people through legal awareness, guidance, and representation. As a charity of gaps, Pro Bono SG’s mission is to enable access to justice for all.

We work with volunteer lawyers to:

  • Increase legal knowledge of members of the public so they are better aware of their legal rights and obligations.
  • Provide legal guidance for needy individuals and community organisations through our array of legal clinics.
  • Represent the needy and vulnerable in their legal matters.

Your legal knowledge is a superpower! Use your legal skills and knowledge to serve the community, promote access to justice, and make a positive impact on society. Find out how you can volunteer!

Support the cause! Your generosity fuels our efforts to provide legal aid to those in need. Help us reach and assist more individuals like Mrs W, donate to our general fund.

Obbana Rajah has been a journalist for the past six years, and Deputy Editor for two of them. An aspiring Law student, she hopes to leave her mark on society by not only being a proponent of therapeutic justice, but also helping people who fall through the cracks of society. In a world filled with Davids, Goliaths and a whole range of others in-between, she believes in being the leg-up for the smaller guy every single time.