What is an Advance Care Directive?

Background

When it comes to your health, it’s important to remain cautious and plan for your current and future care. While it can be confronting, you never really know what the future holds. For example, you might be faced with an unfortunate health crisis where you have multiple treatment options available, but you are unable to communicate your own personal health preferences. In this situation, you would need someone to make decisions on your behalf. Naturally, it would be difficult for this person to decide what treatment you would prefer. Accordingly, to ensure your loved ones and doctors have a good sense of your preferences to inform their decisions, you should be having ongoing conversations about things such as your values and beliefs. This is called advance care planning. An advance care directive (also sometimes known as a living will) is a formalised, written version of an advance care plan. This article will explore the important aspects of an advance care directive.

Advance care directives

Prerequisites

There are a few simple prerequisites to writing a legitimate advance care directive (meaning that your loved ones and doctors need to act in accordance with your directive):

  • You need to be over 18 years old
  • You need to be considered ‘capable’ of making decisions

What does it include

It’s important to note that forms and requirements vary between states. You should double check the information for your state here.

In New South Wales, you can include:

  • Directions regarding future medical treatment that you consent to or refuse
  • Details of the person you would like to appoint as your substitute decision maker
  • Information about your values, beliefs and preferences to help inform your substitute decision maker

To make your advance care directive legitimate, you also need to include your signature and the date.

Substitute decision maker

In New South Wales, this person is your enduring guardian. You can appoint more than one enduring guardian by completing an Appointment of Enduring Guardianship form. It contains specific requirements such as:

  • The appointment(s) and their consent
  • Directions on how the enduring guardian is required to act
  • Any limitations on the enduring guardian’s authority

Final steps

You should distribute your directive to:

  • Your substitute decision maker
  • Your doctors and/or hospital
  • Other loved ones

Remember, a legitimate advance care directive will need to be followed when it comes to making decisions about your future care. As such, distribute it to anybody who you think would be relevant.

Making changes

It’s recommended for you to review your advance care directive and make changes where necessary. For example, if you want to make changes to your values, beliefs and preferences. However, you will need to meet the same prerequisites (namely, you need to still be ‘capable’ of making decisions). You should also make sure to distribute updated copies to the same people you distributed the original one to.

How an advance care directive or appointment of a substitute decision maker ends

If you include an expiry date on your advance care directive, it will end at the date specified. Otherwise, it will end if you revoke it or if you die.

Similarly, an appointment of a substitute decision maker will end if you revoke it, if you die, or alternatively, if the appointed person becomes unable to act or decides to resign.

Conclusion

An advance care directive is an effective way to plan for your future health care. If you need more information, visit the Australian Department of Health website or Advanced Care Planning Australia. Although you don’t always need a lawyer to write an advance care directive, it might still be a good idea to consult a wills lawyer.

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