IF YOU lose capacity through injury or illness, then without Power of Attorney in place you have no one to speak for your wishes.
That is the message from Sheryl and Bruce Herring, after Bruce suffered a stroke which left him in a coma – and Sheryl with no say over his health or financial affairs.
Helping to promote an understanding of the vital role played by Power of Attorney in a brand new video, Sheryl said: “It was an absolute nightmare; it was really, really stressful.
“Bruce was in a coma, so therefore couldn’t speak for himself. I was surrounded by people who didn’t know Bruce at all, didn’t know what his wishes would be, but I just felt un-listened to, as if I was of no importance to the situation, and there was nothing I could do about it as I didn’t have Power of Attorney in place.”
In 2017, Bruce suffered a stroke which left him critically ill in hospital in Dumfries.
Sheryl said: “Bruce was in his 40s, we didn’t think that anything like this was going to happen, we had wills in place and thought that was enough. But in reality, it’s not.
“The will’s just there for after you’ve passed, not for when, say, you’re in hospital, you’re incapacitated, you can’t speak for yourself. It’s the most horriblest situation to be in, for anybody.”
Like the many other people who have been in their position, Clarencefield residents Sheryl and Bruce were discovering that if someone aged 16 and above loses capacity through injury or illness, then without guardianship being in place no one can make decisions for them – not even immediate family.
Power of Attorney is a legal document which can be arranged through a solicitor. It allows someone with capacity to name an individual or individuals to make decisions about their wellbeing and finances if they lose capacity for any reason.
Reflecting back on her experience when Bruce was in a coma, Sheryl said: “I had no say whatsoever in any medical decision that was made about Bruce.
“They came and spoke to me, they told me what was going on and that this was needed, and even though at one point I said, ‘That’s not what Bruce would want,” I was told, ‘Unfortunately, that is taken out of your hands because you do not have Power of Attorney and we have to do what we feel is best at the time.
“I was speaking to a nurse and explaining my frustration at a lot the situation that was going on, and she said, ‘Do you not have Power of Attorney?’
“I didn’t even know what it was, and she explained it to me. I thought, ‘Well, I can’t do anything about it now,’ because obviously you need Bruce’s consent to sign up for Power of Attorney.
“But it was very stressful as well because we both had jobs, I had a house to run, and it was joint, and I couldn’t access any of the funds from Bruce’s account or the joint account to pay for bills because I didn’t have that Power of Attorney in place and I didn’t have Bruce’s permission to take that money – even though, if we was awake, that’s the first thing he would do every month.
“Always X amount into the pot to pay household bills, and all of a sudden I couldn’t do that. And I ended up getting into financial difficulty because of that.”
Bruce was eventually brought out of his coma after several weeks, and Sheryl had to explain that she couldn’t take actions on his behalf as she didn’t have Power of Attorney.
As soon as they were able, with Bruce regaining capacity, the couple put Power of Attorney in place – in case they ever found themselves in the same position.
Bruce said: “I was concerned about Sheryl not having the legal backing to be able to do the things I’d like done for me.”
Sheryl said: “What it now puts in place is, if we have this situation as before where Bruce loses capacity, I am able to be his voice completely. I know Bruce’s wishes, I know Bruce better than any medical profession.
“I also had Power of Attorney put in place for myself, and also ensured that the rest of my family and my children had it done.”
People who lose capacity without Power of Attorney in place can become stuck in hospital.
This can continue for weeks or even months until guardianship is resolved.
Sheryl said: “It’s peace of mind to me. It’s removed a lot of stress off me, that I’ve got that in place, even for myself, because Bruce knows me better than anybody.”
Urging people to look into arranging Power of Attorney, Sheryl added: “Get it done ASAP. It’s imperative. No matter how old you are, get this done. You could become incapacitated at any point in your life and unless you have a Power of Attorney you do not have anybody to be your voice, to help you through what you require and what your wishes are.”
Backing Sheryl’s call, Bruce said: “We never know what’s round the corner, but absolutely you have to really take that on board. Anything can happen.
“Of all people, I would never have thought that anything like this would happen to me, so don’t be lackadaisical about it and think, ‘Oh yeah, everybody says that’.
“It’s very, very important that you listen, because you never know – you really don’t.”
Sheryl and Bruce’s experiences are now captured in a video which will be promoted on social media and on displays in waiting areas at locations including hospitals.
Anybody over 16 who has capacity can look to arrange Power of Attorney for themselves, and can do so by making an approach to a solicitor. In Scotland, a Power of Attorney document is then registered by the Office of the Public Guardian, and is recognised and respected by health and care professionals as well as public bodies and financial institutions such as banks and building societies.
For more information on Power of Attorney, people should speak to a solicitor or visit www.mygov.scot/power-of-attorney