When difficult changes happen in your life it can be hard to work out who should be responsible for your affairs and your care if you don’t have your wishes specified in some way. Should you somehow become unable to make these decisions for yourself, planning ahead for legal, health and financial decisions can help with the process of respecting your wishes.
Why you should plan ahead
If your circumstances change and you can’t make decisions, your wishes can be laid out clearly so you can be assured that these and your rights are respected.
By not having the planning ahead documents in place others, such as a court or tribunal, may make these decisions on your behalf, which could be against your wishes.
And it’s definitely better to have your planning in place as if you make decisions and you’re found to not have the ‘capacity’ – meaning the ability to make decisions – these decisions may not be legally recognised.
When you should plan ahead
It’s easy to go along thinking things will look after themselves, but as time goes on we may become less able to control the decisions about our care, finances and wellbeing that can really impact on us. Anyone over 18 should consider planning ahead if they have capacity.
Although we’re living longer and remaining healthier, many of us will nevertheless have a period of increased dependence and potentially a loss of decision-making ability. And at any time if you are struggling to manage financial affairs or healthcare decisions, you can appoint people or organisations to help.
How you can plan ahead
Ways you can make sure your future wishes are respected are through:
- Advance Care Planning
- Appointing an Enduring Guardian
- Enduring Power of Attorney
- Writing a Will
These steps might require some discussion with family members, medical advice from your doctor or healthcare professionals, and legal consultation with a lawyer or solicitor to ensure your plans are legally sound. But taking these few steps will make sure that in the event of incapacity or inability to make necessary decisions, your concerns and wishes are addressed, and that you plans are able to be put in place.
Enduring Power of Attorney and Appointing an Enduring Guardian
An Enduring Guardian, along with Enduring Power of Attorney, can allow you to guide decisions in the future about your care, health and lifestyle choices which you may not be able to make yourself, if you lose that ability. It’s a good way to plan for the future, and will only be in effect during periods of incapacity.
An Enduring Guardian should know your values, beliefs and wishes as they have the authority to make decisions about things like:
- Where you will live
- Your general health care matters and medical consent
- Support services you receive, such as meals-on-wheels
- Who you may have contact with or who can visit you
- Day-to-day issues
Your Enduring Guardian’s rights to make decisions are limited when it comes to property matters, financial matters, and even certain special healthcare areas such as tissue and organ donation, which is where Power of Attorney may help.
http://www.advancecareplanning.org.au has a guided path to cover the Advance Care Directive process
Power of Attorney
An Enduring Power of Attorney is a document which legally appoints someone to manage your finances and affairs; they can even sign legally-binding documents on your behalf. If you lose the capacity to make these types of decisions, a court or tribunal may appoint someone to take control of your affairs if you haven’t made appropriate plans for this.
You can appoint Power of Attorney at any time, but for planning ahead purposes, it’s best to get things in place while you have the capacity to make these decisions.
Although generally there are ongoing fees for managing affairs, in NSW for example, Power of Attorney preparation services are provided free for people eligible for a full Centrelink Age Pension through the NSW Trustee and Guardian.
Preparing a Will
Having a Will to describe how you would like your assets distributed when you pass away can be a great benefit to your loved ones. Your Will sets out who will receive your assets, and appoints someone – the executor – to deal with the distribution and settling of affairs regarding your estate.
It’s fairly easy to make a Will setting out your wishes, and having a Will can bring a lot of peace of mind when planning ahead.
Being able to make rational decisions is a requirement of making a Will, so plan ahead and have a Will in place to ensure your wishes are met.
If you don’t have a Will in place, like almost half of all Australians, your preferred beneficiaries may be left out and your estate may even pass to the Government.
A Will is easy to make, but is a legal document and needs to be completed accurately to be legally binding. It’s best to have one drawn up by a professional, or the Public Trustee in your state can also assist in the process.
Planning ahead for future stages of your life when you may not be able to make personal decisions is something to address as early as possible. Putting these few steps in place can avoid a great amount of difficulty if we later lose the capacity to make necessary choices.
It’s important to note that all of these plans may need to be documented or noted and kept in a safe place – you’ll need to let the necessary people know how to access these plans if and when the time comes.
The Trustee for your state can help with planning ahead advice, and there are many other sources or help from support organisations.
There are some resources listed below which can help you plan ahead, and it doesn’t take much to have your rights and wishes respected if needed.
The NSW Trustee and Guardian have a booklet available online which can help you plan ahead.
In Victoria, try State Trustees for a wide range of help.
In Queensland, the Public Trustee can be found at https://www.pt.qld.gov.au