Advanced Health Care Directives – What are they and when are they necessary?

by | Aug 1, 2021 | Wills & Estates

An Advanced Health Care Directive is an important part of an Estate Plan as it is a document which explains what type of medical care you wish to receive should you be incapable of understanding or making medical decision on your own behalf.  These can also be known as an Advanced Care Directive, Living Wishes, Health Director or Personal Plan.

It is essential that you understand that Advanced Health Care Directives are separate to an Appointment of Medical Decision Maker, however they do complement each other.  Both of these documents are enlivened when you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself – however the difference is the Appointment of Medical Decision Maker only appoints a decision maker who can make decisions on your behalf and does not provide any details regarding your wishes for your medical treatment or go into detail about your thought process or preferences.

An Advanced Health Care Directive helps you and your family navigate through what are difficult decisions which could include things like:

  • Would you like to be resuscitated?
  • Are there any religious beliefs that you have that your doctor or medical team need to be aware of?
  • If your loved ones cannot make a decision on your treatment, who will have the final say?

When thinking about making an Advanced Health Care Directive, there are certain things that you need to consider.

Be clear about your wishes

An Advanced Health Care Directive, while slightly different across all jurisdictions, all provide an opportunity for you to be clear regarding your values directives and your instructional directives.

The values directives are those things that are important to you and help others understand that outcomes you would not agree to if you were able to make the decision for yourself (eg: unable to live independently, unable to speak, walk, etc).

Your instructional directives specify what medical treatments you consent to, refuse or prefer to avoid (eg: CPR, blood transfusions, etc).

When completing the instructional directives, you may wish to seek some guidance from your medical practitioner as it can require some technical language or understanding of treatments to be able to properly capture your instructions.

Talk to your loved ones

Once you have made your Advanced Health Care Directive, we encourage you to discuss the document with your loved ones as they need to understand your wishes and the choices you have made and included in the Directive.  Having these conversations may provide them with some comfort or guidance should they ever have to make a difficult choice regarding your medical treatment.

Make it valid and keep it up to date

It is recommended that you always seek legal advice before making an Advanced Health Care Directive.  This is a legislated form which needs to be completed and if not done correctly, it may be deemed invalid and not followed.  If your Directive is drafted inconsistently or if it is unclear, it may be held to be unusable as it is not a true reflection of your wishes.

If a Directive does not include the necessary information such as full names, dates or birth or if it is signed incorrectly, it may be held to be invalid.

As we all know, life is never consistent and it is important, just as with your other Estate Planning documents, to review your Directive every few years or when major life events occur (eg: divorce, retirement, and the like).

Make it accessible

You never know exactly when your Directive will need to be used so you need to make sure that your loved ones have access to the document.  Once you have signed your Advanced Health Care Directive, we suggest that the original be held by your lawyer and that certified copies be available at your home.  We would also suggest providing certified copies to you your medical treatment decision maker, your GP, and loved ones who may have to make these decisions on your behalf and maybe your local hospital if you think this is appropriate.

Your Directive can also be uploaded to your My Health Record making it accessible to medical professionals at any time.

How can Nevett Ford assist?

Our Wills and Estates Team can assist you in understanding how an Advanced Health Care Directive will complement your existing Estate Plan and are happy to assist you with any questions you may have.  Our Team can be contacted at melbourne@nevettford.com.au or on 03 9614 7111.