If the person hasn’t already done so, now is a good time to appoint a substitute decision-maker, make an advance care directive and prepare a will. These legal documents ensure that their wishes are recorded.
For any of these documents to be legally binding, the person needs to have capacity at the time of signing the document. Having capacity means the person has the ability to understand the choices that are available and the consequences of decisions, as well as the ability to communicate choices. For more information, talk to your lawyer and doctor, or visit End of Life Law in Australia.
Learn more about:
Document appointing a substitute decision-maker
The person with cancer can appoint someone to make medical decisions on their behalf if at some point in the future they lose capacity to make their own decisions. These can include decisions about medical care and treatment. This person is called a substitute decision-maker. The substitute decision-maker may be the primary carer or someone else the person trusts.
Depending on where you live, the documents for appointing a substitute decision-maker may be known as enduring power of attorney, enduring power of guardianship, or appointment of a medical treatment decision maker. See Different laws for where to find more information.
Making an advance care directive
This directive records a person’s wishes for their future medical care. Doctors, family members and carers can consider this directive if the person is unable to communicate or make decisions, and may be legally binding in some states and territories.
Depending on where you live, the advance care directive may also be known as an advance health directive or advance personal plan. Download forms from Advanced Care Planning Australia.
Preparing a will
This is a legal document that sets out what a person would like to do with their assets (estate) after they die. A will can also record the person’s wishes regarding who will look after any children under the age of 18 (guardianship). Many people want to make a will or update the one they have as their situation changes.
Some carers choose to make or update their own will at the same time as the person with advanced cancer. This can help to make it feel like a normal, everyday process.
Making a will is not difficult, but it needs to be prepared and written in the right way to be legally valid. It is best to ask a lawyer to help you or contact the Public Trustee in your state or territory.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anne Booms, Nurse Practitioner – Supportive and Palliative Care, Icon Cancer Centre Midland, WA; Dr Erica Cameron-Taylor, Staff Specialist, Department of Palliative Care, Mercy Hospice, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Louise Good, Cancer Nurse Consultant, WA; Verity Jausnik, Senior Policy Officer, Carers Australia; David Larkin, Cancer Supportive Care Manager, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital and Health Service, ACT; Kate Martin, Consumer; John McMath, Consumer; Simone Noelker, Physiotherapist and Wellness Centre Coordinator, Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, VIC; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer Care, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dean Rowe, Consumer; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
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