Advance care directive

An advance care directive is an important part of your end-of-life care. An advance care directive formalises your advance care plan. The directive can contain all your needs, values and preferences for your future care and details of a substitute decision-maker.

What is an advance care directive?

An advance care directive is sometimes called a living will.

The directive is a formalised version of your advance care plan . It outlines your preferences for your future care along with your beliefs, values and goals. Having an advance care directive means you can also formally appoint a substitute decision-maker for when you can no longer make decisions yourself.

Advance care directives differ between states and territories. Some state and territory governments have specific forms that you can use.

You can learn more about directives in your state or territory on the Advance Care Planning Australia website.

Why is an advance care directive important?

Making an advance care directive is an important part of advance care planning.

It is impossible to know what will happen in the future concerning your health. And you might have firm ideas about how you want to live the rest of your life.

In a crisis your loved ones may find it difficult to decide what treatment is best for you. An advance care directive will help everyone know what you would want if you can’t tell them.

How to make an advance care directive

You can only make a valid advance care directive if you are over 18 and have decision making capacity. Decision making capacity refers to a person’s ability to make day to day decisions about things like:

  • legal matters
  • medical/health care matters
  • financial matters
  • personal matters

Health professionals and family members must follow a valid directive. They cannot override it.

Your doctor should provide you with information and advice regarding your current health situation. They should also discuss what may happen in the future. It is a good idea to discuss your advance care directive with your doctor.

You don’t require a lawyer to complete a valid directive.

An advance care directive can include one or more of the following:

  • the person you would like to be your substitute decision-maker
  • details of what is important to you, such as your values, life goals and preferred outcomes
  • the treatments and care you would like or would refuse if you have a life-threatening illness or injury

There are forms available to help you write your directive. 

Once you have written your advance care directive, you should sign and date it. Your substitute decision-maker and your doctor can also sign it.

You should then give copies of your directive to:

  • your family
  • your substitute decision-maker
  • your hospital and doctor
  • the ambulance service
  • anyone else who you feel is appropriate

How to select a substitute decision-maker

Choosing your substitute decision-maker is important. It is a good idea to think carefully about who you want to take that role. Your decision-maker will make decisions about your medical treatment if you can’t.

Your substitute decision-maker should be somebody:

  • you trust
  • who is over 18 years
  • who will listen to your values and preferences for future care
  • who will be comfortable making decisions in difficult situations

You should ask yourself the question: ‘Am I confident this person will make decisions based on what I would want?’

You can also choose a second person as an alternate decision-maker. They will step in if your first decision-maker is unable to make decisions on your behalf.

In different Australian states and territories substitute decision-makers may have different titles.

If you want to formalise your choice of a substitute decision-maker, you need to complete the relevant form that’s used in your state or territory.

Uploading your advance care directive to My Health Record

You can add your advance care directive to your My Heath Record. That way it’s available to your treating doctors if ever needed. You can also store the names of people you have shared your directive with.

Changing your advance care directive

You can change your advance care directive at any time. If you do change it, make sure anyone you gave the original directive to gets the new version. The most recent version of your directive will be the one followed.

You should review your advance care directive:

  • when your preferences change
  • if your substitute decision-maker changes
  • when your medical condition changes

See Advance Care Planning Australia for more advice on changing your directive.

Where to get help, support and advice

For more help on writing an advance care directive, visit Advance Care Planning Australia.

If you are not sure where to start when talking to your loved ones, our conversation guide can help.

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