Advance care planning

When faced with a life-limiting illness, some people think about what they’d like to achieve in the time they have left. Palliative care teams are experienced with helping patients and their families talk about their goals and preferences for care, and the amount of treatment they want for the cancer. This can involve difficult discussions about balancing the quality and length of life.

This process is called advance care planning. While it may be confronting, many people also find this process empowering. It can be started at any stage, whether you are feeling well or ill. It enables you to convey your preferences for your future health care if you become unable to communicate your wishes.

It’s very useful for you and your family to think about these issues before they are raised by a health professional. What matters to you most? Might you choose to have less time if it means feeling relatively well or would you want as much time as possible even if treatment would lead to unpleasant side effects? Everyone has their own individual preferences and these can change over time.

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Advance care planning doesn’t mean you have given up or will die soon. Your needs might change over time and it is a good idea to regularly review your plan. Palliative Care Australia has developed a discussion starter that can help you reflect on your preferences for care and talk about them with your family, carers and close friends. See

Advance care directive

You can write down your treatment wishes in what is known as an advance care directive, commonly called a “living will”. Depending on where you live, it may be known by a similar term such as advanced personal plan or advance health directive. This provides a record of your preferences for doctors, family and carers to consider if you become unable to communicate or make decisions.

You can choose to revise or cancel your advance care directive.

Ask your doctor or hospital to place your directive on your medical record. You can also save it online at

Substitute decision-maker

You can legally 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. A substitute decision-maker should be someone you trust and who understands your values and wishes for future care.

Depending on where you live, the documents for appointing this person may be known as an enduring power of attorney, enduring power of guardianship or appointment of enduring guardian.

Each state or territory has different laws about advance care planning. For more information about completing an advance care plan, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or the Advance Care Planning Advisory Service on 1300 208 582, or visit or

This information was last reviewed in April 2017
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