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21 October 2011

"Help, I need somebody!"

"Help, I need somebody!"

As church leaders what should our response be when someone comes to us worried about their own declining capacity or about someone close who is no longer able to cope due to disability, long term illness or mental incapacity? Or maybe they are a carer at their wits end with stress. First and foremost this is a pastoral situation, and usually one of great sensitivity. So, whilst it is right to encourage them to involve professionals like their GP, a solicitor if necessary, and to consult specialist charities such as Age UK or the Alzheimer's Society your church has something unique to offer through providing sensitive pastoral care and practical support.

Some things to remember

  • Each situation is unique
  • At all times try to maintain the dignity of the individual affected
  • The incapacitated person may well be aware of their failing faculties and feel powerless and fearful, and possibly in denial about the seriousness of their situation
  • Those caring for them may feel over-burdened by the responsibility, or maybe highly stressed and short-tempered, and consequently feeling guilty
  • Be prepared to listen non-judgementally, providing space for those affected to talk about their negative feelings as well as their fears
  • Gently explore with them the implications of their situation and where possible help them plan for the future rather than waiting for matters to deteriorate further
  • There may be big questions to be explored about where God is in this situation and the reasons he allows these things to happen - don't be too quick to give your answers as what may be more important is reassurance of God being with them
  • Consider what practical support the church could offer that would help the individual maintain their independence as long as possible and/or relieve pressure upon carers
  • Help the carers identify local support organisations too, including investigating Social Services provision and making sure all welfare benefits entitlements are taken up

Managing someone's affairs

If necessary, arrangements can be made for an individual's affairs to be managed on their behalf. Ideally, advice should be taken at an early stage (before they lose capacity). People should be encouraged to appoint a chosen and trusted person to act on their behalf and make decisions for them. These appointments can be in relation to Property and Affairs or Health and Welfare decisions. This appointment can be done through legal documents known as a Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA). This is a sensitive matter and needs to be carefully thought out.

In some cases, it may unfortunately be too late for a person to make their own decision about who should make such decisions. In these cases applications to the Court of Protection for a Deputyship Order (generally for Property and Financial Affairs decisions) or specific Court Orders (in relation to Welfare matters) may need to be made.

Both an LPA and a Deputyship Order give people the right to make decisions for themselves where possible but also include measures to allow someone to make decisions on their behalf if they can no longer do so.

If the reason is physical rather than mental incapacity a General Power of Attorney should be set up instead. Care should be taken to ensure it is clearly drawn up giving the scope of the vested authority. And whilst the websites below provide useful information it is advisable to seek legal advice before taking action.

Further information

Fran Beckett
Consultant (Anthony Collins Solicitors)
Donna Holmes
Associate (Anthony Collins Solicitors)