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Planning ahead - What if you can no longer make decisions for yourself?

 

You’re feeling healthy and good now, maybe a little worn out by the constant shouters on your TV and the gloom that global pandemic brings, but otherwise good.

Imagine that tragedy strikes tomorrow, a stroke, an accident, or sudden onset of an illness you had no idea would affect you.

We see this all the time here at Financial Framework, and it’s one of the reasons we advise clients on the various personal insurance for risk protection. Read more about these here.

While personal insurance can cover your finances and care, there are some more personal decisions to be made if you can no longer care for or make sound decisions yourself.

That’s where a Power of Attorney and Enduring Power of Guardianship come in.

What is an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA)?

An EPA is a legally binding document that gives another person or organisation the legal authority to make financial and property decisions on your behalf.

You can choose for an EPA to begin immediately or only in the case that you lose capacity to make important decisions. If you choose the latter, the State Administrative Tribunal will be the one to determine your loss of capacity.

If you choose for the EPA to begin immediately, you can still make decisions and transact on your property and finances yourself. However, your attorney can also begin some financial tasks for you under your guidance.

If you don’t have an EPA in place and you lose the capacity to make decisions around finance and property, then someone (usually a loved one) will need to apply to the State Administrative Tribunal to have someone appointed to take on this role. This could be a family member, friend or the Public Trustee if it is found there is no suitable candidate.

What is the EPA required to do?

The attorney may be required to make the following decisions:

  • General expenditure
  • Purchase, sale, lease maintenance or improvement of property
  • Payment of debts
  • Make and manage investments
  • Arrange and pay insurance
  • Manage bank accounts
  • Manage any income
  • Manage any business interests
  • Enter into, complete or terminate contracts
  • Manage tax
  • Manage Centrelink entitlements

What is an Enduring Power of Guardianship (EPG)?

An Enduring Power of Guardianship authorises a person of your choosing to make lifestyle, medical and treatment decisions on your behalf. This will be required if you are unable to make decisions for yourself as a result of dementia, brain injury, mental illness or intellectual disability.

Your Guardian will have the authority to make decisions around where you live (permanently or temporarily) including moving into residential care; any support services such as psychological care or physiotherapy. Importantly, this person will also be responsible for making decisions around your health care and treatment, including dental, surgical and end of life treatments.

Other areas they will be responsible for include who you associate with, whether you work or not, education and training decisions and act on your behalf on legal matters.

Your Guardian should be someone close to you and someone you trust. They should be aware of your wishes, your beliefs and how you want to live your life.

As with the EPA, the EPG will only come into effect if you are unable to make these decisions for yourself.

It’s important that you decide who will take care of you if you are no longer able. If these documents aren’t in place, the Public Trustee will make the decision about who looks after you and your affairs.

How else can I prepare?

 

There are two documents that can help you prepare for end of life decisions, an Advanced Health Directive and an Advance Care Plan.

What is an Advance Care Plan?

An Advance Care Plan is a document that plans for your current and future care. If you were no longer able to communicate your wishes, the Advance Care Plan lets your loved ones know what your wishes are. You may find that your plan changes along with your lifestyle, we recommend an ongoing discussion with your doctors, health professionals and family as your circumstances change.

You can download a template here. The template covers some formal steps such as who is your Power of Attorney and who has Enduring Power of Guardianship and where to find your Will.

The next section is about your preferences for future care. Here is where you can state items such as what you wish to happen if you can no longer care for yourself, treatments you will accept and express any religious or personal preferences.

You’ll then need to make a decision about what happens if you lose capacity or are approaching end of life. The final section is for you to leave messages to your loved ones about some of the decisions to be made. For example, reiterating your wish to be an organ donor, the music you would like played, who should take care of your pet.

Having this information documented can help your loved ones make informed decisions, giving them comfort that they are supporting you as you would have wanted.

What is an Advance Health Directive?

An Advance Health Directive (AHD) is a formalised version of your Advance Care Plan with details on specific treatments, actions and whether you provide consent for these treatments. As with the other documents we have discussed, the AHD will only come into effect if you lose the capacity to make or communicate these decisions yourself.

The AHD covers some very sensitive topics regarding your end of life care. You should discuss these with your health professional to ensure you’re clear on the decisions you’re making. We also suggest talking about these decisions with your loved ones so they are clear about your wishes.

The decisions to be made include end of life care, for example if you have a terminal illness with no chance of recovery, do you want life saving measures taken or do you want to be made comfortable. Or if you are in a coma (persistent vegetative state), you can state whether you want to be kept alive as long as possible or if it is clear you will not recover then treatment should be withdrawn.

You can find out more about AHDs here, and download an AHD template here.

Conclusion

We’ve given you a lot to think about, most of it not pleasant. However, it’s important that you consider the future, what happens to you and who makes those decisions.

Contact us if you would like to talk through any of the items raised above or would like to discuss Estate Planning. You can read our blog on Estate Planning here.

It is very important that you understand that the information above is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from a financial adviser. It is also worth noting that the Australian financial and taxation system is ever changing, and the information above may no longer be relevant. Again, we suggest seeking professional advice from a financial adviser before proceeding.

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