Advance care planning

It can be a good idea to plan for your future medical care, and to discuss your wishes with your family, friends and health care team. This process is called advance care planning, and it can be started at any stage. It enables you to outline your future wishes for health care if you become unable to communicate later.

Advance care planning doesn’t mean that you have given up or will die soon – many people review their wishes from time to time.

Studies conducted in a range of health care settings suggest that advance care planning can improve individual and family satisfaction with care, reduce the number of people transferred from nursing homes to hospitals, and reduce stress, anxiety and depression in surviving relatives.

As part of your advance care planning, you may appoint a substitute decision-maker or record your wishes in an advance care directive. You can make the advance care documents as simple or as detailed as you like.

If you have religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that may affect your health care decisions, you can record these in your advance care documents. You need to be an adult and have capacity to complete advance care documents.

Each state or territory has different laws about advance care directives and substitute decision-makers. To find out more, visit or Advance Care Planning Australia.

Steps to advance care planning

Talk to others

Talk to your family, close friends and carers about what you want or don’t want if you are unable to make your own medical decisions.

Use Palliative Care Australia’s discussion starter to reflect on your preferences and discuss these with family and friends. Visit

Record your wishes

Record your wishes in an advance care planning document. Include the following details:

  • The names and contact details of people who can speak on your behalf if you are unable to. This person is known as your substitute decision-maker.
  • A description of the care that would and would not be acceptable to you.
  • An outline of treatments or services that you do or do not want.
  • A signature and date. Have the document witnessed.

Make copies

Make copies of your advance care documents and share them with your GP, oncologist, substitute decision-maker, solicitor and a family member or friend.

  • Ask your doctor or hospital to place the plan on your medical record. You can save it online at
  • Review the documents regularly and update them whenever your wishes change.

This information was last reviewed in December 2016
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