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If a person cannot make decisions about their medical care for themselves, an Advance Care Directive is a tool to guide their substitute medical decision-maker and medical practitioners.

But despite being one of the five important estate planning documents every senior should make, an alarming 80% of older people who are admitted to the hospital emergency department don’t have an Advance Care Directive in place. That’s why it’s important to know when is a good time to make an Advance Care Directive and why it is a helpful to have one - whether the document is for yourself or if you are supporting a loved one to put one in place.

To learn more about estate planning, chat to our estate planning team at Bare Law, on 1800 959 371.

What is an Advance Care Directive?

An Advance Care Directive or sometimes known as a ‘living will’ is a key part of a person’s end-of-life care plan. It is a legal estate planning document that formalises a person’s plan for their healthcare and medical treatment.

It outlines the details of what is important to a person, including their values and preferred outcomes. It can also include the treatments and care they would like or would refuse if they have a life-threatening illness or injury.

Depending on which state you reside in, the document may have a slightly different name and the decision-making aspect can vary. For example, an Advance Care Directive exists in Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania; whereas an Advance Health Directive exists in Queensland and Western Australia; but a Health Direction exists in the ACT; and an Advanced Personal Plan in the Northern Territory.

When should I make an Advance Care Directive?

You should make one if you have an ongoing medical condition; have an upcoming medical procedure or surgery; or if you are getting on in the years or nearing your end of life.

It can be useful to have the appropriate authorisation in place if you become unwell later on or lose the ability to make medical decisions.

Advance Care Planning Australia recommends advance healthcare conversations should begin when a person is medically stable and comfortable. It’s important to talk about your wishes for end of life in the presence of your substitute decision-maker (or decision-makers), family, friends and carer if you have one.

Another reason you might need to have an Advance Care Directive in place is if you are entering a retirement village or aged care facility. It is becoming more common to be asked for these types of documents before taking up residence, even if there are no signs of reduced medical or mental capacity.

Anyone aged 18 years or over can make one at any time, as long as they have ‘full legal capacity’ to do so. In other words, they must know and understand what’s involved with the directions they have written and the implications of the decisions another person might make on their behalf.

What happens if I don’t have one?

If you have strong values or beliefs – either consenting to, or refusing a particular medical treatment – outlining these in an advance care directive means medical professionals cannot override these wishes. If your wishes for life-changing care are not known, doctors may use aggressive treatments that you might not have wanted. For peace of mind, make an advance care directive.

We have a team of Wills and estate lawyers to help you. Head here to learn more about our legal services, or call us on 1800 959 371.

This article is not legal advice. You should chat with your solicitor or accountant for specific advice on your personal or financial situation.