Getting your affairs in order

Health Agenda

Care plans and wills: planning for the future

How to plan ahead for your death, or if you become seriously ill.

Health Agenda magazine
October 2018

Talking about death can be challenging, especially if you’re talking about your own. Understandably, it’s a topic we tend to avoid. But there are some things we can do to help ease the stress for our loved ones if we’re seriously ill and when we die.

Here are some key steps for getting your affairs in order.

Step 1: Write your will

Only 59% of Australians have a will, according to a study from The University of Queensland.

While do-it-yourself will kits can easily be found online, in post offices and from some insurance companies, lawyer Andrew Simpson, national head of wills and estate planning at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, doesn’t advise using them.

According to Simpson, some of the errors people make when they do their own will include not signing it correctly, not getting it witnessed correctly, and trying to bequeath assets they think they own, but don’t.

“For a relatively small outlay,” Simpson says, “you can get a will that you know will be valid and you know will deal with your scenario at that time.”

Though fees can vary, Simpson says that you can organise a relatively simple will with a lawyer for $500–$800.

Step 2: Account for all scenarios in your will

Try to think through some possible scenarios. For example, you may leave your assets to your partner, and then explain that if your partner dies your assets go to your children. But if you all die together, such as in a car accident, what happens then?

In this eventuality you may want to name someone outside of your immediate family or even a charity.

Step 3: Update your will regularly

Doing a will once isn’t good enough. Simpson advises updating your will every 5 years, or when new life events happen, such as buying a house, marrying, divorcing or having children.

Step 4: Choose an executor

The next step is to appoint an executor, who is the person you name in your will to administer your estate – your money and assets.

The executor will take charge after your death and get a grant of probate. This is permission to access your legal documents, collect your assets, make sure your bills and debts are paid, and then distribute the estate according to the instructions in your will.

“Make sure that you choose the right executor,” advises Simpson. Choose someone you trust and you know will be able to administer your estate according to your wishes.

Don’t forget to tell your executor that you’ve chosen them in your will, so they can be prepared. Simpson also recommends speaking to your executor about any instructions for your funeral, as well as any unusual aspects of your will, such as leaving out someone that may have expected to be in it.

Step 5: Organise your Power of Attorney

Next you need to prepare for a scenario where you’re unable to make decisions because you’re injured or sick.

“I’ve always taken the view that estate planning is [made up of] 2 parts. One is the, ‘What happens when I die?’, meaning the will,” explains Simpson. “The other part is, ‘What happens if I’m incapacitated or just unable to make decisions?’”

A way to prepare for this is to organise a Power of Attorney so that someone can act on your behalf to make financial and legal decisions. In the ACT, Queensland and Victoria this is called an Enduring Power of Attorney. You can appoint more than 1 power of attorney.

Step 6: Write a care plan

A care plan can help to direct your health care if you’re seriously ill or injured – unlike a Power of Attorney, which focuses on financial and legal decisions.

You may want to include instructions around life support, resuscitation on life support, pain relief and organ donation. 

Put your preferences in writing by completing an Advance Care Directive and nominating someone to make medical decisions if you can’t. Talk your wishes through with the person you nominate, and give both them and your GP a copy of your care plan.

Step 7: Collect your log in details and store your documents safely

Simpson advises leaving a document detailing all your passwords and accounts, such as:

  • bank details
  • any automatic payments like media subscriptions
  • debts including loans
  • insurance
  • investments
  • superannuation.

“It’s a good idea to put that kind of information in an envelope and store it with your will, saying, ‘Open in the event of my death,’” or similar, he says. Let your executor or Power of Attorney know where this information is kept.

This preparation can ease a lot of frustration and stress for your loved ones when you die. Passwords are particularly important as without them, your friends or family may not be able to access your phone, computer, social media accounts or emails.

If you’re concerned about security, you could store these documents in a secure place like a safety deposit box or with your attorney.


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