Getting your affairs in order

Organising your personal, financial and legal affairs, collecting all the paperwork and making decisions you may not be ready for, such as writing your will or choosing the type of funeral you would like, can be hard. However, doing this can bring a sense of relief and can allow you to focus on treatment and living.

Talk to your lawyer or a financial planner about your specific legal and financial situation, as rules and regulations differ for each state and territory in Australia.

Organising your paperwork

It’s a good idea to have all of your paperwork in one place. This will make it easier if, for example, you need to be in hospital for a long time and a family member has to help you with financial and legal matters. Important documents to get together might include:

  • birth, marriage and divorce certificates
  • bank and credit card information
  • investment details
  • Centrelink and Medicare details
  • superannuation and insurance information 
  • funeral information
  • house title/lease documents
  • will 
  • passport.

Discuss your legal arrangements with your family, and tell someone close where you keep your legal documents or how to contact your lawyer.

Making your will

A will is a binding document outlining who should receive your assets (possessions and property) after your death. These assets are called your estate. A will authorises a person (your executor) to act according to your wishes and to administer your estate.

If you do not write a will, the law provides guidelines on how your estate will be distributed. This can cause further financial and emotional stress for family members at an already difficult time. If you already have a will from before the cancer diagnosis, you may want to review it to make sure it reflects your current wishes.

Appointing a substitute decision maker

You can appoint someone to make decisions for you if at some point in the future you’re not able to make them yourself. This can include decisions about your finances, property, medical care and lifestyle. This person, called a substitute decision maker, should be someone you trust, who will listen carefully to your values and wishes for future care. You need to be an adult and have capacity  when you appoint this person.

Depending on where you live, the documents used to appoint a substitute decision maker have different names. These can include an enduring power of attorney, enduring power of guardianship or appointment of enduring guardian.

Advance care directive

Your doctor or another health professional may recommend that you think about making an advance care directive. In some states and territories the advance care directive is referred to as an advance health directive, advance care plan or living will. This document outlines the medical treatment you do or don’t want to have.

An advance care directive can provide you, your family and carers the opportunity to take control of decisions that affect your care, if at some point in the future you no longer have the capacity to make them yourself.

You can make the advance care directive as simple or as detailed as you like. If you have religious beliefs that may affect your health care decisions, you can record these in your advance care directive. You need to be an adult and have capacity to make an advance care directive.

Having capacity to sign a legal document

When you make a will, appoint a substitute decision maker or write an advance care directive, you need to be an adult and have capacity at the time of signing a document. Having capacity means you are able to understand the choices that are available and the consequences of your decisions, and are able to communicate your choices. If there could be any doubt about your capacity, it’s a good idea to get a doctor’s certificate to verify this.

What to do with your advance care directive

Keep a copy of your advance care directive for yourself and also give copies to your GP, oncologist, substitute decision maker, solicitor and a family member or friend. You can ask your doctor or the hospital to place the plan on your medical record.

Superannuation

Accessing superannuation early

There are grounds for accessing your superannuation (retirement fund) early, such as to help cover the costs of medical treatment, severe financial hardship, or if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness. For more information visit the Australian Government Department of Human Services at www.humanservices.gov.au.

Finding missing superannuation

To find any missing or forgotten funds, contact the Australian Taxation Office (you will need your tax file number ready) and ask them to search for it. Check that you have nominated a person to receive your benefit upon your death, known as a death benefit nomination with your superannuation fund. Visit www.ato.gov.au or call 13 10 20.

Insurance

Often people don’t know that they have insurance attached to their superannuation. Many funds offer insurance by default. Common types of insurance provided can include income protection, total and permanent disability and death cover.

Dealing with bills and debts

There is help available if you are having difficulty paying your utility bills, such as water, gas and electricity. Options include flexible payment arrangements or there may be discounts, rebates or concessions available. Check with the hospital social worker what options are available in your state and territory.

Cancer Council’s book When Cancer Changes your Financial Plans has more detailed information. Call Helpline for a free copy.

Planning for your funeral

You may wish to plan your funeral or memorial service so that it will be conducted according to your wishes and so your family won’t have to guess what you would have wanted.

  • Some funeral directors accept payment in advance and some insurance companies have funeral payment plans. 
  • You can lodge a plan with the funeral director of your choice well before it is needed.
  • You may have a few simple requests for music to be played or poems read, or you may have ideas for the full program.
  • It can be difficult, but you may also like to write out your wishes or discuss them with your family. 
  • If what you wish to happen changes, you can change these arrangements at any time. 
  • If you feel you need to make preparations but you can’t do all the work, or prefer not to, talk to a social worker or pastoral care worker who can help you work out what you can do. 

It is probably not easy for most of us to hear or think about the reality of what is involved in funerals. However, there can be a satisfaction in leaving your mark on the occasion, and also involving your family beforehand.

 

This information was last reviewed in December 2013

This information has been reviewed by: Dr Kathy Pope, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Abbott, Cancer Care Dietitian, Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Frances Bellemore, Clinical Care Nurse, St Vincent’s Hospital, NSW; Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar, Telephone Support Group Facilitator, Cancer Council NSW; Helpline and Cancer Counselling Service staff, Cancer Council QLD; Di Richardson, Consumer; Dr Mary Brooksbank, Philip Plummer and Claire Maskell Gibson on behalf of Palliative Care Australia. 

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