WE ALL hope to make our own decisions about our lives. But illness or accidents can mean that we may need to rely on other people to make decisions about our welfare, finances or medical treatment.
As part of general life planning, it’s a great idea to make a will, appoint a power of attorney or an enduring guardian and make an advance care directive.
These terms are often confusing and not a topic that people want to talk about.
But the importance of doing so shouldn’t be ignored.
A survey by Palliative Care Australia found that while two-thirds of Australians say that they would turn to family first to make decisions about their end-of-life care, 45 per cent said that they don’t think their families know what they want and over a third said that they think their wishes may be ignored.
Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that over half thought their wishes would be ignored by health professionals.
So we thought we’d outline how you go about ensuring that, if you are unable to speak for yourself, what you want to happen actually happens.
While wills are something that most people have heard about, it is estimated that about 40 per cent of Australians don’t have one.
If you don’t have this legal document, once you pass away your assets are split up depending on a Government formula and if you don’t have close relatives, your estate will be given to the Government.
A power of attorney is a person or a trustee organisation that you legally appoint to handle your finances while you are alive.
You do not lose control of your finances and your attorney must manage your affairs according to your instructions. It can however be useful if you are unwell, for example.
Unlike a power of attorney (which only covers property and money matters), an enduring guardian can make decisions for you on issues such as accommodation, health and services if you lose the capacity to make such decisions for yourself.
You can appoint more than one person and you do not have to appoint close family members.
It is important to remember that while you may be most comfortable appointing your spouse, as you age together there is also the potential for health and medical issues to affect their ability to make decisions on your behalf.
An enduring guardianship only takes effect if you lose your capacity to make important decisions.
Finally, an advance care directive is a document in which you determine the sort of medical treatment you would wish to receive if you need it when you are unable to make your own decisions.
Sometimes called a ‘living will’, this is something you should discuss with family and your GP.
It is common for people to wait until they are in a crisis situation to discuss these issues.
By that time, not only is it sometimes too late but it is also best to do this when you are in a calm state of mind and able to think more objectively.
A useful website has recently been launched by the NSW Government touching on all these issues in detail, answering commonly asked questions. It also has an option for you to build your own plans.
Visit www.planningaheadtools.com.au for more information and getting started or call LawAccess NSW which provides free legal advice and assistance in planning for later life. Their number is 1300 888 529.