A guide to planning ahead for end of life

Nobody ever truly wants to think about the end of their life, or about a loved one’s passing. But, planning ahead is important to ensure that wishes are honoured and their passing can be dignified.

End of life planning ensures everyone is on the same page and eliminates the guesswork when the time does arrive.  It can also help make what is already an incredibly difficult situation slightly less stressful on the family.

Where possible, end of life planning should be a collaborative experience with your loved one. Or, if you are the one preparing for your own death, it’s important to ensure your family is aware of your wishes. 

Here, we’ve compiled some of the end of life decisions that should be considered — as well as a checklist that may help.

Make an advance care plan

Advance care planning is when an individual makes decisions about their future medical care. 

It can include information about where they would like to be cared for, any medical treatments they do or do not consent to and their desired quality of life.

When making an advanced care plan, it’s important to think about beliefs and values, as well as any specific information related to any applicable medical conditions.

Preparing an advanced care directive can help give you or your loved one greater confidence that wishes will be respected.  The idea is that this letter will be passed on to any carers or medical teams so they can make any necessary arrangements. 

Different states and governments have different forms and processes when it comes to advance care plans, so be sure to visit Advanced Care Planning Australia’s website for specific guidelines.

Consider appointing decision-makers

In the event that an individual becomes too unwell to make their own decisions in relation to end of life planning, they can appoint someone else to do this for them. 

This person would advocate on their behalf, and make any necessary decisions or arrangements.

Ideally, you will already have made all the major decisions together, but this can be helpful if anything else pops up later down the track. 

There are a few different legal appointments that can be made in this area:

    • medical treatment decision-maker – can manage your medical needs
    • enduring power of attorney – can make financial decisions
    • enduring guardianship – can make personal and lifestyle decisions

This person will generally be a spouse, family member or close friend, and cannot be a healthcare professional or paid carer. They must also be over the age of 18.

This person will be trusted with you — or, your loved one’s — life and finances. So, it’s very important to choose carefully. They should be someone you know and trust, who has a strong understanding of what you want and don’t want and is willing to communicate these for you.

Again, different states and territories have different processes for formally appointing a substitute decision-maker. However, this will generally have to be submitted through an attorney or medical care directive, so be sure to look into the guidelines in your state.

Financial planning

Money is the last thing you want to think about at the end of your life. But, it’s important to make sure all financial affairs are in order, so your family knows how to access your superannuation and insurance. 

If you or your loved one have a life-limiting illness, you may also be able to gain access these early to help maintain quality of life and provide financial support to the family.

You may want to consider hiring a professional financial advisor to help you navigate these decisions, as areas like life insurance and superannuation can be quite complex. They may also be able to help you put together for paying off any outstanding debts.

The Australian Investment and Securities Commission (ASIC) offers a free financial counselling service, if funds are tight.

Preparing your will

If you or your loved one haven’t already prepared a will, now is certainly the time. It’s also a good time to review your existing will if you have one. 

A will is essentially a legal document that sets out what will happen to an individual’s assets when they pass away. This can include physical assets like your property, cars or jewellery, financial assets like shares or savings or heirlooms with sentimental value.

In this document, you will also outline any gifts you would like to give away, and choose the executor of the will. This is the person who will be in charge of the distribution of your will after you pass. 

They will be responsible for notifying all beneficiaries of your will and distributing assets to them, as well as collecting any debts owed to you and paying any you owe, organising any necessary valuations of your assets (for example, your property) and more. 

It’s a good idea to select at least two executors in the event that one is unable to assist. As with your decision-makers, your executors should be a close and trusted friend or family member.

Preparing your will is an extremely important part of end of life planning, as, if you don’t have one, the court will decide what happens to your assets. This may cause unnecessary stress and discomfort to your family.

Planning personal matters

Many people like to ensure they have all their ‘ducks in a row’ as the end of their life approaches. This includes not only health and financial matters, but personal ones, too.

If there are any friends or people you or your loved one has unresolved issues with, now may be a good time to contact them. This step can also include deciding who you would like to have around in the final days and any religious practices you would like carried out. 

Here, you may also choose to discuss preferences for post-life care. For example, would you or your loved one prefer to be buried or cremated? Are there any specific requests for the memorial service?

Having these conversations may feel difficult or uncomfortable, but when handled with care they can actually be quite a positive experience. They can give you or your loved one the peace of mind that their passing will be as peaceful as possible. 

Here is a checklist that may help when planning.

End of life planning checklist:

Have you and/or your loved one:

    • Made an advanced care plan, including:
      • Where you would like to be cared for
      • Your preferred medical professionals or GP
      • Medical treatments you do and do not consent to 
      • Your preferences on life support

    • Appointed decision-makers, including:
      • Medical treatment decision-maker
      • Enduring Power of Attorney
      • Enduring Guardian

    • Got your financial affairs in order, including:
      • Determined how your superannuation will be distributed after you pass
      • Determined how your life insurance will be distributed after you pass
      • Created a list of all your debts
      • Created a list of all debts owed to you

    • Prepared your will, including:
      • Created a list of physical assets and how you would like these distributed
      • Created a list of financial assets and how you would like these distributed
      • Created a list of heirlooms and gifts and how you would like these distributed
      • Selected at least two beneficiaries of your will
      • Had the document legally checked and submitted by a trustee or solicitor

    • Got your personal affairs in order, including:
      • Making a plan for resolving unresolved issues
      • Communicated your preferences for end-of-life environment
      • Selected a burial or cremation for post-life care
      • Discussed funeral or memorial preferences