Death. It’s not something people like to talk about. For some people it makes them feel superstitious, for others it is simply too uncomfortable to discuss and a topic you want to ignore. Just like taxes, death is inevitable. Death might not be something we can control, but there are aspects to our end-of-life care and what happens after we die that we can plan for. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates Lawyer, Zoe Penman, catches up with Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB to talk about “Dying to Know Day” and how you can plan for the future.
Dying to Know Day – Sunday 8th August 2021
Dying to Know Day is an annual campaign where people are encouraged to start conversations about death. During August, people hold events, gatherings at home, take individual action, and much more, all to improve their knowledge around the choices they may make, or options available to them, at end of life. Although we may be restricted to having certain gatherings during the COVID-19 lockdowns, we can still take the opportunity to think about what we may want as we near our end-of-life and encourage open conversations with our loved ones.
Dying to Know Day is the work of The Groundswell Project who recognized that talking about death might be one of the most important conversations you ever have. There is this stigma about having discussions about what you want to happen when you die, and how your death may play out; many people avoid the conversation altogether.
The Groundswell Project is a not-for-profit organization created by Co-founders Dr Kerri Noonan and Dr Peta Murray. The co-founders are driven to create a more death literate society, where people and communities have the practical know-how needed to plan well and respond to dying, death, and grief.
Dying to Know Day reminds us of the importance of having conversations with your loved ones about the future, about death, and about your wishes after you are gone, as well as reflecting on and understanding the choices you’ll make at the end of your own life.
It doesn’t serve you well to bury your head in the sand
Death is an extremely personal topic. It not only impacts you but everyone you leave behind. And it impacts everyone differently. Most of our clients say to us “if I die…” – no, no, it’s when you die…
When we look at some life and death facts:
- According to ABS there were approximately 170,000 recorded deaths in Australia (based on data collected in 2019)
- Between January and April 2021, there was an average of 378.4 deaths per day
- 70% of Australians die in a hospital; even though most people do not want to, or even need to.
- On a global scale, Australians are some of the longest living people in the world, sitting in the top 10 countries with the longest life expectancy.
So, how prepared are Australians for death? It has been reported that approximately half the population do not have a Will. There are a number of reasons for this including people kicking the task down the road, or people feeling they do not have enough wealth to warrant making a Will. Some people think they are tempting fate by signing their Will! Whatever the reasons are that make people push back on doing their Will, we should all be biting the bullet and getting them done.
Older people, and people with high-value assets, are most commonly the one’s that make a Will. Most younger people are unlikely to have a Will and there is a clear need for more education campaigns around Will making to educate younger generations about why it is so important to have a Will, no matter what the value of your assets may be. People need to understand the consequences of not having a Will when they die.
For those people that do have a Will, in many cases their Will does not reflect their current intentions or circumstances as it is easy to forget to keep the document up-to-date.
The making of a Will is generally triggered by life stage changes or changes in assets. Triggers can include purchasing a new home, getting married or having children. Everyone needs to understand that the fickle finger of fate does not discriminate against whose number is up! The ever-present dangers in our modern society make living a bit of a lottery, with the COVID-19 outbreaks, natural disasters caused by climate change, and random catastrophic events or accidents seeming to be more prevalent. These dangers make it even more critical that you have a Will!
In addition to people delaying getting their Will done, Enduring Powers of Attorney and Advance Health Directives are even less frequently utilized when planning for the future and end of life care. These documents are extremely important no matter which stage of life you are at and can provide peace of mind to you in knowing that you have appointed someone you trust to take care of you and your affairs if the unexpected does happen.
What is an Advance Health Directive and why might someone need one?
Firstly, to make an Advance Health Directive you must be 18 years or older and have the mental capacity to understand the nature and effect of the document. An Advance Health Directive needs to be signed by your doctor and by you in the presence of an eligible witness.
The best time to make an Advance Health Directive is before any kind of urgent medical condition or illness arises. It is extremely important to complete an Advance Health Directive:
- If you are about to be admitted to hospital;
- if your condition is likely to impact your capacity and ability to make decisions; or
- if you have a chronic medical condition that could result in serious complications.
An Advance Health Directive is the closest you will get to planning your end-of-life care and ensuring your loved ones understand what steps you want to take as you approach the end of your life.
You can choose to include instructions about:
- what is important to you and what your preferences are.
- what worries you about your future. For example, being unable to live independently in your home.
- If you have any cultural, religious, or spiritual values, rituals, or beliefs you would like to be considered as part of your health care plan.
- What is most important to you and what would comfort you as you near death. This could be outlining details such as if you would prefer to be at home when you die, or if you would like certain music to be played for you, etc.
- Who you would like to be involved in discussions about your health care.
- Anyone you do not want to be involved in discussions about your health care.
- Directions about life-sustaining treatment.
- Directions about other health care or blood transfusions.
- Who you would like to appoint as an attorney for health-related matters.
- Determining how your attorney/s would make decisions about your health care. You could stipulate if decisions can be made jointly, solely, or by majority, for example.
- Any other instructions for your attorneys.
You will often find that it is during the process of completing this document, and other legal documents such as your Will and Enduring Power of Attorney, that you really start to think about what your preferences are. It can provide a platform to have important discussions with your loved ones about what you want to happen as end of life nears and help guide your loved ones in making those important and sensitive decisions about your care.
Voluntary Assisted Dying – where does Australia stand on the issue?
In May 2021, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk introduced the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 (Bill) into Parliament.
The purpose of the Bill is part of a long-considered process to weigh up whether Queenslanders who are dying should have a choice over the time and circumstances of their death. The Bill has been referred to the Health and Environment Committee for consideration with the committee expected to report back to the parliament by Friday 20th August 2021.
The main purpose of the Bill is to:
- Give people who are suffering and dying, and who meet eligibility criteria, the option to request medical assistance to end their lives.
- Establish a lawful process for eligible persons to exercise that option.
- Establish safeguards to ensure that the process is accessed only by individuals who are assessed and eligible and to protect vulnerable people from coercion or exploitation.
- Provide legal protection for health practitioners who choose to assist, or not to assist, persons to exercise the option of ending their lives; and
- Establish a Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board and other mechanisms to ensure compliance with the Act.
The Bill is still currently being considered in Queensland.
Planning for the future
There are many different ways you can plan for the future to ensure you have your say as to where you want to live, what type of care you want to receive, and who you want to benefit from your estate after you die.
Here are some tips to consider when planning for the future:
- Openly discuss your wishes and intentions with your family about what you envisage for your life as you age or if something unexpected does happen which throws your life and health off course.
- Ensure you have a Will, and it is up to date. We recommend that you review your Will every 2 years, or whenever your circumstances or assets may change.
- Make sure you discuss your wishes with who you appoint as executor in your Will. It is always best to let someone know you have appointed them to this role. So many people are surprised to find out that they have been appointed as the executor of an estate after someone dies. In most cases, that person may have no previous experience as an executor or even know what the role entails. It’s always good to have the conversation with someone before appointing them.
- Appoint an Enduring Power of Attorney or Enduring Guardian. This is one of the most important legal documents you can ever make in your lifetime as it will support you when you are still alive and if you lose capacity to make decisions for yourself. Having someone who knows your intentions, that you trust implicitly, and who you know will advocate for you and fulfil your wishes is so important.
- Review your life insurance policies. So many people have life insurance, or death benefits, attached to their superannuation but have never actually checked to see what the insurance cover is and if this is a suitable amount.
- Complete an Advance Health Directive so that you can make decisions now about the treatment or care you would want, or not want, if the time comes that you become sick or injured and can no longer communicate your wishes.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping you preserve your wishes
We know that these conversations can be uncomfortable. Whether you are preparing your Will, Enduring Power of Attorney, or Advance Health Directive, our experienced Wills and Estates lawyers will listen to what your wishes are and guide you through the process, making it as simple as possible. We want to give you peace of mind in knowing your legal affairs are in order.
You can also make an appointment with our estate planning lawyers using our online booking app. Click here to book now!
Our lawyers are available to make an appointment with at any of our conveniently located offices at Robina Town Centre, Coolangatta, Kingscliff, or Brisbane. As we are currently unable to visit our Sydney or Melbourne offices due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we are still able to offer telephone or video consultations to our NSW and VIC clients during this time.
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