Powers of Attorney – A sensible safety net

Whether an individual loses capacity due to a physical or mental illness, having a power of attorney in place is always a sensible safety net to have in place.

21 May 2020

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It’s very encouraging to see so much on social media and in the press about Mental Health Awareness Week, supporting people to talk about how they are feeling, and to seek appropriate help when it’s needed. It can feel difficult, overcoming negative attitudes towards mental health issues, and knowing when and where to ask for support, let’s hope the momentum continues and we see a much more open culture helping to reduce crisis points.

Our mental health is as individual as we are, and we all have different things in our lives that can cause us to suffer with anxiety, or depression. We may have long term illnesses such as schizophrenia or dementia. Or you may be concerned about a friend or family member suffering with mental health problems. What if there is a crisis and they can’t cope, or they need extra assistance whether day to day or for ‘big’ issues, or it becomes too difficult and they are admitted to hospital…?

 If you are concerned about who could help with the daily tasks, pay the bills, keep things ticking over, or be there while medical issues are discussed, please do think about putting a power of attorney in place. Whether it’s for you or a family member or friend, having this in place can give you an element of certainty and take a weight off your mind.

What exactly is involved in putting a power of attorney in place?

In the power of attorney document, you name the person or people you trust to act on your behalf – no-one else makes this decision for you, you are in control.  These people, your attorneys, would then be able to assist you when you ask them to.  Your attorneys would also be able to act for you and make decisions on your behalf, in your best interests, if you lost capacity and were not able to make your own decisions. This could be due to physical or mental incapacity, short term or long term.  Or you might only need extra help with some things and not others, your attorney would only act when needed.

What authority does your attorney have?

As for what authority and powers your attorneys would have – again, this is your choice.  Your circumstances, priorities and opinions are unique to you, and you can tailor the power of attorney to suit your individual situation.  There’s no crystal ball, we can’t be absolutely certain what might come up in the future, so a wide range of powers gives flexibility, but you can restrict any aspect of it if it doesn’t reflect your wishes.

You are not handing over the reins to your attorneys, and they are not able to act just because the document is in place.  They should only act if you ask them to or if you have lost capacity and are not able to act – and you can put provisions in the document to require medical opinions before your attorneys are allowed to do anything for you.  But remember that it is your choice who to appoint, and if you have any reservations about appointing a certain individual, then perhaps it would be better to appoint someone else.

Your attorneys need to consent to the appointment, so they will be involved in the process. This, in itself, means that you can get issues out in the open, discuss concerns, talk about what your wishes would be in different circumstances – sometimes this is just what is needed within a family to give everyone peace of mind, knowing who would be making decisions, on what basis, and what your wishes would be.  And if anyone feels that they wouldn’t be able to take on the responsibility for any reason, this gives them the opportunity to say so.

The best case would be that you have a power of attorney in place but it is never actually needed – a bit like a personal insurance policy, it would be good if you didn’t need to rely on it.  And it’s a very sensible safety net to have in place.  Once it’s in place, it does give clarity, focus and peace of mind. 

It’s well worth thinking about. Putting in place a power of attorney is a practical task,  prompting honest discussions with family and friends, bringing mental health issues into the open and offering reassurance and comfort that you have the support in place should you need it.

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