Speech during 2nd reading of the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill
Digitalisation of Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) & expanding the role of the Public Guardian in helping donors choose their donees wisely
“I would like to take this opportunity to join the hon Parliamentary Secretary in his clarion call to fellow Singaporeans who have not done so to make LPAs so that they can minimise the trouble to their loved ones who have to bear the responsibility of caring for them should they lose their mental capacity. I have”.
Earlier this week, I spoke at the 2nd reading of the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill in Parliament welcoming the digitalisation of the LPAs. I had made the call for the digitalisation of wills and LPAs in the House in April 2020. I expressed the wish that the Government press on with digital reform in this arena so that in the near future, we will also be able to make digital wills, advance medical directives and applications for grant of probate and letters of administration in straightforward cases from the comfort of our homes. I also took the opportunity to suggest that the Public Guardian provide more support to donors in form of providing information about the suitability of people whom they intend to appoint as donees under their LPAs. Finally, I took the opportunity to exhort fellow Singaporeans to take the opportunity to make LPAs so that their loved ones would be empowered to take good care of them when they lose mental capacity.
Please find the full transcript of the speech as follows:
Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I support this Bill. Death and taxes are both as unwelcome, yet both are an essential part of our lives. We have to think, plan and eventually execute the provisions for our mortality. The amendments we debate today will enable the Office of Public Guardian to digitalise the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) process. I see this as an important first step that will provide Singaporeans and their families with better support in dealing with life’s vicissitudes pertaining to loss of mental capacity, terminal illness, end of life and distribution of assets to loved ones post-life.
I made the call for digitalisation of LPAs and Wills on 7 April 2020 in this House when we were debating the COVID-19 (Temporary Provisions) Bill. I had also made calls to modernise and simplify the probate processes for several years now.
I do hope that in the near future lay persons will be able to access digital platforms to make not only LPAs but digital wills, advance medical directives and applications for Grants of Probate or Letters of Administration for straightforward probate matters without fuss, with little costs and from the comfort of their homes. That would be real and significant progress.
At the same time, I do recognise that we still have a digital divide in our community and hon Member Ms Denise Phua spoke cogently about this point, drawing from surveys done by IMDA. I, therefore, would like to join her and hon Member of Parliament Mr Seah Kian Peng in their call to provide tangible support to persons who are not digitally savvy.
I only have one short query and this is to clarify the legislative policy concerning the role of the Public Guardian in safeguarding the donor’s wellbeing and interests even before an LPA is made by him. This arises from the proposed amendments to give the Public Guardian (PG) the power to: (a) interview the donor if there are grounds to suspect there is fraud or undue influence to induce a donor to: make an LPA; or to appoint a particular person to be his donee; and (b) disclose to the donor the number of LPAs for which his prospective donee has already or will be appointed as donee on the same grounds.
A number of hon Members of Parliament who spoke before me also dealt this provision including hon Member Ms Sylvia Lim.
Let me say that, in principle, I do not have an issue with the proposed amendments. I applaud the move to enlarge the Public Guardian’s responsibilities so as to better protect the donor’s interests at the outset before an LPA is made. I do not see this as an extension of duties; the PG taking over the responsibility of ensuring that the donee is a suitable person. That responsibility must sit squarely with the donor. However, I think it is good that the PG provides the necessary support to the donor in terms of giving relevant information and putting the donor on notice before he makes the important decision on the choice of his donee.
My short query is in relation to why the role of the PG in safeguarding the donor’s interest before the registration of the LPA cannot be expanded beyond fraud and undue influence to also include general suitability of the proposed donee.
For example, it may serve the donor’s interest if the PG shares with the donor information as to whether the proposed donee has any criminal convictions dealing with theft, cheating, extortion, criminal breach of trust or an offence involving fraud or dishonesty. Such information is not easily accessible by members of public, even though these are matters of public record since convictions are almost always pronounced in open Court. Currently, the Court already has the power to revoke the LPA or direct that the LPA not be registered on this ground if the conviction post-dates his appointment as donee. The presumption here, I gather, is that the donor would know or act with reasonable diligence to establish the proposed donee’s background beforehand.
But, in practice, this is not necessarily the case. We know all too often how we shirk tasks that have high cognitive tax, such as reading the fine print of contracts and policies, and I am speaking as one who is paid to read fine print, even though I must admit I do this at work but not at home.
I would be grateful if the hon Parliamentary Secretary could please clarify what is the legislative intent in circumscribing the PG’s role to just matters where it is suspected that fraud or undue pressure is used on the donor.
Before I sit down, I would like to take this opportunity to join the hon Parliamentary Secretary in his clarion call to fellow Singaporeans who have not done so to make LPAs so that they can minimise the trouble to their loved ones who have to bear the responsibility of caring for them should they lose their mental capacity. I have.