About a year ago, in a very distressed state, I made what turned out to be a life-changing phone call.
I was distressed because for the third time in less than a month I had woken up to find myself without gas and/or electricity. There was nothing wrong with the supply the problem was with me. I was using the key/card system on a fortnightly basis and was forgetting to buy the credit needed. I was also forgetting to pay my water rates regularly and, even though the water company knew I had health problems that affected my orgainizational skills, they still pursued the matter aggressively.
I was ill and was having problems in gaining any stability. I was experiencing a form of rapid cycling which meant I was having at least four cycles a day that went from extreme irritability (mania) and suicidal (depression) and with each episode of cycling I was becoming more and more stressed. When I boiled over with stress there was memory loss (dissociative amnesia) and a distinct impairment of cognitive function. I could start a conversation and completely lose track just seconds in to it. I was forgetting to take medication, attend any appointments and I was feeling increasingly fragmented and distressed. I had been very involved in my local community and had to stop the voluntary work I had been doing because it became too stressful.
Whilst I knew that I had to repair my health and that it could be a long process I also knew it had to begin with a step that wouldn’t readily be associated with healing – finance. While it is ready acceptable that the wealthier you are the healthier you are likely to be it is not always understood that, especially amongst people with mental health problems, people with already poor health tend to have less healthy finances.
The phone call I made was to Richard Latteman of Lucra Limited, a trusted friend and an Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) and I said that I felt I needed to be in a position where, if need be, someone could run my finances for me. LPA was a vague term to me but I knew that there was something that could be put into place for me.
Richard explained that there was LPA for both Finance and Health and that you set them up when you have full mental capabilities and register them with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) when you need your attorneys to step in. You can ask the OPG to inform key people when the documents are registered with them.
You can elect one or more people as attorneys. I chose two people one of whom was Richard who, as an IFA was in the best position to advise me on financial matters and the other was Hugh van’t Hoff, an experienced GP who is also a trusted friend and who knows how I feel about sectioning, medication and resuscitation.
I was able to be quite honest and open about how I was feeling and how scared I was of ending up in a hospital ward for a prolonged stay if I didn’t start to change the way things were. Both men are not just good at their jobs but also good people and I knew that they’d treat me with kindness and respect.
We met with Trevor French who talked me through the implications of LPA and we discussed whether the attorneys could act alone (separately) or together (severally) or both. We chose both. Trevor asked questions to determine whether I was competent to make the decision to instigate LPA and, in time we spent alone, we talked so he could determine whether or not I had been coerced into the decision. Once all that was satisfied that I was acting with my full mental capabilities and without coercion we signed the forms. These are then processed and sent to OPG who register the LPA. At this point you can choose to register the LPA at a later date. I need the help now and so a quick registration was needed but others wait until later, some people never need to register their LPA.
What registering the LPA means is not that I have given control of my finances and decisions about my health to Hugh & Richard but that I am being given their expert help and guidance. Richard has helped me set up direct debits and shown me a way of keeping track of day to day finances so I have a comfortable amount of money in the bank should I find myself without an income for a short period of time. When I do become ill he can talk to any of the people I have financial relationships with and negotiate on my behalf. This means becoming ill is less of a worry and that as a result I’m actually less likely to get ill, as I’m less likely to get stressed. Hugh will be able to talk to my GP in the times when I’m suffering memory loss and get the details of my treatment that I forget which means that my overall medical treatment will improve because I have this extra input. It means that I can discuss with them both things that can help prevent episodes of illness. They will both have copies of my Advance Care Directive so that they both know the short-term measures I take to help prevent periods of illness and to prompt me to do this.
There are fees to pay for the set up and registration of an LPA but part of this can be offset if the person registering is in receipt of certain benefits.
A year ago I was in a position where I was living fully up to my income and not managing very well at all. Now I am in a much more comfortable position and no longer fear money. The miracle of it is that I have not actually given up any control over my money at all; I have gained control over it. My health LPA is in the registration process and it too will give me a confidence and control that I feel I don’t have at the moment.
The emotional security is priceless.