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Your legal rights – and responsibilities – as you age

Plan ahead and be in control

By creating a legal framework that meets all your needs, you can breathe easier, guarantee your dignity, and remove the uncertainty from the coming years.

Time is a precious commodity and most of us are determined to live in the here and now. But having a rich and full life also involves planning ahead for the future.

While no-one particularly likes filling out paperwork, as the saying goes: ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’
By planning ahead now, you can establish a legal framework that will serve you for the years to come.

When planning your ageing journey, the four legal items you should give serious thought to are your:

1) Power of attorney

2) Enduring guardianship

3) Advanced care directive

4) Will

Note that laws and legal requirements can vary from state to state, so always seek independent legal advice.

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Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is a document that gives another person the legal authority to act on your behalf. When we’re young and healthy, it’s generally easy to do our own banking, manage our finances and keep an eye on legal obligations. But the physical impact of ageing, or cognitive effect of conditions such as  dementia can make it far more difficult to undertake these transactions.

There are several types of power of attorney.

A general power of attorney provides another person with control over your financial affairs for a specific task such as selling your house ahead of moving into an aged care facility.

An enduring power of attorney, meanwhile, is used in situations where you want a designated person to make decisions on your behalf, on an ongoing basis. This is particularly common where an older person anticipates a loss of cognitive ability.

You can provide your power of attorney to a member of your family or another individual over the age of 18 who you feel has your best interests at heart.

Enduring Guardianship

While a power of attorney gives a trusted individual the power to act on our behalf for financial affairs, it does not cover health and medical decisions. This is where an enduring guardianship can be useful. It is a legal document in which you nominate a designated individual to make decisions about your lifestyle and healthcare.

The guardianship only comes into effect should you lose the capacity to make these decisions on your own behalf.

Unlike your power of attorney, your guardian cannot make decisions about your financial affairs. As with a power of attorney, you can choose a member of your family as your guardian or another individual over the age of 18 who you feel has your best interests at heart.

You do need to appoint the same person to be both your guardian and power of attorney.

Advanced Care Directive

While the person you appoint as your enduring guardian should have a firm understanding of your wishes in terms of healthcare, you can make your position even clearer through a document known as an advanced care directive. Sometimes also known as a living will, it spells out your wishes and directions as you approach your end of life.

If you are unable to provide input yourself for any reason, it provides decision makers with an understanding of your values and feelings around healthcare. For example, why some people may want to remain alive no matter what it takes, others may see quality of life as more important. Other people may have religious views or ethical feelings around certain treatments.

An advanced care directive is your opportunity to articulate this.

Will

A will is a legal document that sets out how your assets should be distributed following your death. Figures from financial regulator the Australian Securities and Investments Commission suggest almost half of all Australians die without a will.

When a person passes away without having left instructions for the distribution of their estate, a court-appointed administrator distributes their assets. This can be an unpleasant experience for the deceased’s family, who may not all agree with the way things are divided up.

If the person has no living relatives, their assets are handed over to the local state government.

Either way, it makes sense to get your will in order. Your will is your opportunity to share sentimental items with a friend or family member who will appreciate them. A will also allows you to divide your assets as you see fit. This may be particularly important if you want children from previous relationships to share in your assets.

DIY will-kits can be bought for as little as five dollars or you can ask your solicitor for help in drawing one up so that your intentions are respected and fulfilled after your passing.

Take the time today for a better tomorrow and get your paperwork in order. It will give you peace of mind and ensure that your wishes are respected long into the future.

For more detail, we have another article that covers more legal questions in planning ahead as I age.

BaptistCare aged Home Care services can assist you with common questions and tasks such as visiting a solicitor. To find out more, contact the BaptistCare Customer Engagement Centre on 1300 275 227.

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