Making a Living Will

1 August 2011

A living will and a durable power of attorney for healthcare can ensure that healthcare decisions will stay in the hands of trusted people that you choose.

There are two components to a living will. The first is a written statement you make directly to medical personnel that details the type of care you want (or don’t want) if you become incapacitated. You can use this statement to say as much or as little as you wish about the kind of healthcare you want to receive.

The second is a document called the power of attorney. This document appoints someone you trust to see that doctors and other healthcare providers give you the type of care you wish to receive. The person who has this power of attorney may be your spouse or partner, relative or close friend.

Keep in mind that this person may have to fight to assert your wishes in the face of a stubborn medical establishment, and against the wishes of family members who may be driven by their own beliefs and interests, rather than yours. If you foresee the possibility of conflict in enforcing your wishes, be sure to choose someone who is strong willed and assertive.

The proximity of the person with your power of attorney can be critical. If you have a long illness this person may be called upon to spend weeks or even months nearby, making sure medical personnel abide by your wishes for healthcare.

As with a standard last will and testament, your Living Will should be created by your lawyer or solicitor.

If you have not planned ahead the decision making power passes to a family member or relative, sometimes a close friend, the attending doctor, or a court appointed guardian.

Alternatively, a Public Trustee can be called upon to make independent estate decisions. The Public Trustee can be appointed executor in your will or family members can pass on their executor responsibilities to the Public Trustee. Each state and territory has a Public Trustee that offers a variety of services such as distribution of assets, finding beneficiaries and administrating taxation requirements.

For additional information you can visit the Law Society of Australia, which has a range of links to state and local legal services for information regarding Estate Planning, making a will etc.

You can also try Australian Law Online which has various information on wills, funerals and estate planning

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