Some things just can’t wait…
I don’t want to ruin your day, so forgive me for talking about your demise but it’s going to happen – hopefully not for years – but do yourself a favour and get your own (legal paperwork) house in order so that things are easier on your family after you’ve gone.
Here are 4 things to consider (seriously), together with your family, your doctor and your legal team – they are your Will, your Advance Health Directive, your Enduring Power of Attorney and your Statement of Choices.
Some of us get an adrenalin rush from leaving things until the last minute but these documents are something best NOT left until you are on your death bed. Talking with your family about these documents, and what’s in them, well before time means that they can focus on supporting you on your death bed and not arguing about who’s getting Great Auntie Sally’s one of a kind antique tea set or that valuable 1971 Holden HQ car that’s been sitting in the back shed for the last 30+ years.
1. Advance Health Directive (AHD)
An Advance Health Directive (AHD) is a legal document that is a formal way to give instructions about your future health care. It comes into effect only if your cognitive health deteriorates and you become unable to make your own decisions (i.e. lose capacity to make decisions). If you have strong wishes about your future health care you should seriously consider completing this legally-binding document.
It outlines what medical treatment or health care you want if you can no longer make decisions for yourself. It can be general (e.g. that you wish to receive all available treatment) or specific (e.g. that you wish to decline a certain medical treatment). It enables you to appoint an attorney for health and personal matters and includes information that health professionals should know, including health conditions, allergies, and religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that could affect your care.
A recent review (published in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care) has found that one third of elderly patients receive futile treatment before they die, often fueled by family members with unrealistic expectations putting pressure on hospital doctors (who come from a culture of doing everything possible to save a life) to provide futile treatments which can prolong suffering for the person dying. If you have completed an Advance Health Directive then your wishes will be followed, hopefully ensuring your right to die with dignity at the natural end of your life.
We need to get more comfortable talking about death and dying so use the preparation of this document as a valuable springboard for discussions with your family and friends about your values and end-of-life wishes as you focus more on living well towards your death.
You don’t need to lodge your completed AHD form with any authorities. Keep the original document in a safe place and give a copy to your doctor, a family member or a friend, and your attorney for personal matters if you have one.
The best time to make an advance health directive is now, before any urgent health condition arises.
2. An Enduring Power of Attorney
There are 2 types of power of attorney: a general power of attorney and an enduring power of attorney.
You would use a general power of attorney to appoint someone to make financial decisions on your behalf for a specific period or event, such as if you’re going overseas and need someone to sell your house or pay your bills. It’s used while you can still make your own decisions and ends once you no longer can (i.e. you lose capacity).
You would use an enduring power of attorney to appoint someone to make financial and/or personal decisions on your behalf. For financial decisions, you can nominate whether you want the attorney to begin making financial decisions for you straight away or at some other date or occasion, such as once you’ve lost capacity to make these decisions.
If you have strong wishes about your future health care you should consider completing this legally-binding document along with an Advance Health Directive.
P.S. An enduring power of attorney does not override an Advance Health Directive.
3. A Statement of Choices
A Statement of Choices is a values-based document that records a person’s wishes, values, beliefs and choices for their health care into the future. The document can guide those close to you to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make those decisions for yourself.
Whilst It is not a legal document (unlike the Advance Health Directive and the Enduring Power of Attorney) the content of a Statement of Choices can still have a guiding effect by assisting substitute decisionmakers and clinicians if a person is unable to communicate their choices.
4. A Will
A Will is a legal document that is used after an adult passes away and states what you want to happen to your money, belongings and other assets (your estate). Your Will names who you want to give your estate to (your beneficiaries) and who you would like to administer your estate when you pass away (your executor).
If you die without a Will, you are said to have died intestate. The Queensland laws of intestacy are outlined in Part 3 of the Succession Act, 1981. This act sets out the rules for distributing your assets. Dying without a Will can mean that your estate may not be distributed to your beneficiaries in the way that you would wish. You may not have left clear provision for your loved ones and you may be placing an extra burden on them at a time of stress, grief and loss. There may be potential for conflict between the beneficiaries of your estate and it may take more time and money to finalise your deceased estate.
Everyone over 18 who has capacity to make a Will, should make one, regardless of the size of their estate. It’s important to have a valid Will which is a living document that accompanies everyone on their life’s journey.
Important life stages for updating your Will are: Marriage or civil partnership, separation, divorce or termination of a civil partnership, enter into a de facto relationship – particularly if there are children from previous relationships, ending a de facto relationship, birth of children or grandchildren, death of your Executor or a beneficiary, or a change in your financial circumstances
A Will also provides you with the opportunity to: name guardians for your children, establish a trust to provide for children, establish a trust for a person with a disability, ensure preservation of assets, give money to charity and philanthropic organisations.
Don’t leave it for someone else to do…
The thought that “it will never happen to me” doesn’t wash – it WILL happen to you, and everyone else on this planet, so how about sorting this out (it’s not that hard) and get your house in order so that your loved ones, who will be dealing with the pain of your loss, don’t have to also deal with the mess created when you die.
Information provided on the Light Transitions website is general in nature only and is not intended as legal, financial or any other form of advice.