New role for families to protect vulnerable

A NEW legal measure has been brought in to ease problems for families where a loved one is no longer capable of making decisions for themselves.

Called the habilitation familiale, it allows one or more family members to perform administrative and other functions on the person’s behalf.

France already has several procedures to protect a person’s interests in situations such as if someone is in a coma, has been left heavily disabled or are gravely ill.

However, some legal frameworks, such as tutelle (guardianship) and curatelle (trusteeship), that have been criticised as over-bureaucratic in their responses or for not involving the family in decisions. They are also said to take too much time to set up.

Another, the mandat de protection future (similar to a power of Attorney in the UK), has to be set up while the person is in reasonable health and can make their own decisions.

The new family-based procedure is intended to be an easy measure in addition to the others and does not allow the legal carer to make donations or bequests. It can only be used by one or more family members – parent, grandparent, son, daughter, brother, sister plus grandchildren or the person’s pacs partner.

It should give families reassurance that decisions are being made quickly and in their loved one’s best interests while avoiding financial decisions that may be unwise in the long run.

While allowing access to bank accounts that were in the person’s sole name, it also allows the legal carer to perform tasks up to and including the sale of property.

Aimed to be easier to set up than tutelle, as it does not need any legal formalities other than a request backed up by a doctor’s advice, it is approved by the juge des tutelles at the tribunal d’instance once he or she has checked that there are no objections from other family members.

This simplified process also helps unclog the courts as there are fewer than 100 juges de tutelles in France for nearly one million older people in administrative protection.

Keeping care within the family will also avoid one complaint against tuteurs, that they may decide to put the person into a old people’s home against family wishes. While tuteurs or tutrices may also be family members, they are often professionals whose fees can reach 15% of the person’s taxable income.

The habilitation familiale lasts for up to 10 years but a juge des tutelles can end it at any point in the case of difficulties or if the person is struggling.

  • To avoid future problems with sole accounts, the account holder can sign a form at the bank designating someone to manage the account – a procuration. If a person is going into hospital they can allow someone to help with formalities etc if they designate them a personne de confiance
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