There were lots of things on our list to discuss, on Wednesday 23 October 2019, when a small group gathered at Paperchain Bookshop, 34 Franklin St Manuka, Canberra, to discuss the good death.
But we stayed on one point – “planning ahead” all evening – and we could have spent hours more talking about this. The reason is not surprising.
I suggested people imagine taking a sheet of paper and folding it over once and then once again, so there were four quadrants on their pages. Then once you’ve done this, place in the four corners 1) prepare your will, 2) appoint a power of attorney, 3) appoint your enduring guardian and 4) write your advance care directive – called your health directions in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), where we met.
Here are some points covered in the wide ranging conversation that followed:
- Don’t be surprised if the process takes longer than you think. That is, several days, a few drafts and many conversations. You will need witnesses for some of these documents and you will need some signatures from those you have asked to be part of your planning.
- One audience member suggested that in the ACT your health direction has to be updated every two years. A nuisance? I don’t think so. This is a good prompt to change your document if your attitudes change over time – which they surely will. And you could always say the same thing, even though you updated the date. This shows everyone you’ve thought about it.
- Remember that a power of attorney looks after your financial affairs. If you turn up to a hospital saying “I am this person’s power of attorney”, they will tell you this means nothing in the hospital context. To be recognised as the one who will make medical decisions, you need to have been appointed as the ‘enduring guardian’. This is a separate document. And a very different thing. One is about buying the groceries when you can no longer look after yourself and the other is about what decisions should be made about your medical care when you can no longer speak for yourself.
- All of these documents are only valid if you had ‘capacity’ when you signed them. So they need to be signed before you develop the dementia of old age (common these days because we live longer). This means they need to be prepared much earlier than you think. Like now!
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