You may have heard of a “Living Will” and wondered what that means. In the United States, a “Living Will” is often prepared when Wills are being prepared. In Australia, we call the equivalent an Advance Care Plan. This involves making a plan about what you want to happen in the future about your personal care and medical treatment. It is best to do this whilst you are able to make clear choices about how you want to be looked after, should your mental or physical health decline.
Advance care planning has most relevance for those with declining health. Whilst poorly understood, the process is relatively simple. You record your wishes about how you want to be looked after and appoint someone to make choices on your behalf if you are not capable of making decisions for yourself.
A good Advance Care Plan will describe your wishes about where and how you want to live, when it is no longer appropriate for you to continue living in your current home. It will also outline your preferred choices about medical treatment should you need acute care.
There are 4 key documents that can be prepared, to implement an Advance Care Plan. An Enduring Power of Attorney appoints someone to make decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to make decisions yourself. An Advance Health Directive is a legally binding direction about your future medical treatment and interventions. A non-binding Statement of Choices records your wishes, values and beliefs to guide those close to you to make health care decisions on your behalf. Then an Advanced Care Plan provides a very simple summary of your wishes and identifies the other documentation you have prepared.
If you are seeking assistance with an Advance Care Plan, make sure the people helping you have an understanding of overall planning for your future care. Many practitioners are only familiar with Advanced Health Directives – which form only part of a good Advance Care Plan.
Developing an Advance Care Plan need not be a difficult or expensive process. With a little guidance, you can record your choices for your future care and treatment to give guidance to your family members about your wishes. This is best done when you have the time and capacity to decide what you want. Then difficult decisions do not have to be made at a time of crisis.
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