Seven in 10 (70%) people in retirement have not set up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), according to new research for Zurich.
The findings, which coincide with Dementia Action Week, reveal a financial planning blind spot which could leave tens of thousands of pensioners financially vulnerable in retirement.
Four years ago, an overhaul of the pension rules gave people the freedom to keep their pensions invested in retirement and draw an income as and when they wished.
Based on the latest Financial Conduct Authority data, Zurich estimates* as many as 615,000 people have since switched their savings into drawdown.
DIY investors managing drawdown without the help of a financial adviser need to make decisions on where to invest and how much to withdraw, at a time when their physical or mental health might be deteriorating.
But without an LPA in place, their families or friends would be unable to quickly step in to help them, without facing a lengthy court process.
Alistair Wilson, Zurich's head of retail platform strategy, said: "Registering a Lasting Power of Attorney has become even more crucial since the pension reforms.
"Hundreds of thousands of people are now making complex decisions about their pension into old age, when the risk of developing illnesses, such as dementia, increases.
"Despite this, a vast number of retirees are unprepared for a time when managing their pension might become hard, or even impossible. This problem is creating a potential time bomb as the population in drawdown expands and ages."
According to the Zurich study, which polled more than 2,000 UK adults in May 2019, four in five (80%) Britons have not registered an LPA, with women (82%) marginally less likely to have a set one up than men (78%). Among over-55s, seven in 10 (73%) don’t have an LPA, rising to more than four in five (82%) 45-54 year olds.
A 'devastating condition'
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. This could increase to over one million by 2025, and by 2051 to two million.
Morven Lean, programme partnerships officer at Alzheimer's Society, said: "A Lasting Power of Attorney or deputyship can be a very important part of advance planning for a time when a person may not be able to make certain decisions for themselves.
"Dementia is a devastating condition which strips a person of their memories, relationships and identities. That's why it's so important that time is taken for advance planning, always ensuring that individuals living with dementia are at the heart of any decision to get an LPA or deputy, so they have the right to make important decisions about their life that might come later.
"There is still a stigma surrounding LPAs, where people can be reluctant to consider a time when they are not able to make their own decisions.
"Not having an LPA or deputy can – in worse case scenarios – lead to situations where assets and equity may be lost and those in a vulnerable position are forced to make decisions they are not capable of making. Alzheimer’s Society is here for anyone affected by dementia with advice and support including regarding legal and planning issues such as LPA."
For more information on Lasting Power of Attorney, take a look at our interactive guide in our tools and guides section.
*FCA Retirement Income Data Bulletin September 2018 shows 435,769 people took out drawdown between April 2016 and March 2018. If numbers grew at the same pace as October 2017 to March 2018 (90,504), Zurich estimates the population in drawdown would have increased by 181,008 between April 2018 and March 2019, resulting in 616,700 people in drawdown.