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When words fail us, our voice can still be heard

Opinion

When words fail you, two simple legal documents can be life-changing for you and your family, writes GABRIELLE CANNY.

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Gabrielle Canny

An Advance Care Directive and an Enduring Power of Attorney are as important as a Will. However, many people don’t have them or don’t understand the tremendous impact they can have on our future and our family.
An Advance Care Directive is a Do It Yourself legal document that’s like the brolly you take to the park on a cloudy day. You hope you won’t need it, but it’s there if you do.
Known as an ACD, this document lets you outline how you want to be treated if you become physically or mentally incapacitated. It will speak for you if the time comes when you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
By setting your wishes down in advance, an ACD also reduces the burden carried by family members who must one day make difficult decisions about the care of ageing relatives.
An ACD allows you to appoint Substitute Decision-Makers to make choices on your behalf if you are unable to do so. It also lets you highlight your preferences about end-of-life medical treatment.
Residential care providers often check to see if a new resident has an ACD. Too often, however, the elderly individual does not have one and is no longer capable of completing one.
The examples below demonstrate the wide range of areas that can be covered by an ACD – from healthcare to pets to fashion preferences.
• If I become physically frail, I  would still love to attend two  Crows games per season.
• My pets are important to me. If I  get dementia, I do not want to be separated from my two cats.
•   If I have another heart attack, I don’t want to be resuscitated or placed on life-support.
• If I become unable to dress myself, I do not want to be dressed in tracksuit pants. They look awful!
The printed version of the ACD form can be purchased for $5 at Service SA customer centres or it can be downloaded for free. The document is written in plain English and can be completed online or with a pen.
To download an ACD or complete one online, go to www.advancecaredirectives.sa.gov.au.
If we’re fortunate, we can leave our children many things – such as education, and perhaps some money or property. Let’s not forget, however, there is another gift we can give them: clear directions about how we want to be treated when we reach a stage of life when they must make decisions on our behalf.
An Enduring Power of Attorney is another document that can help to safeguard your interests and welfare.
An Enduring Power of Attorney is different to an Advance Care Directive and provides your appointed person with the authority to make decisions about your financial affairs. It can come into effect at a designated time or after a specified event. Importantly, it will continue if you become incapacitated – for example, due to a stroke – and are unable to make or communicate certain decisions about your financial affairs.
Providing someone with an Enduring Power of Attorney does not mean you lose control of your affairs, as you can still deal with matters that you choose to handle while you have the ability to do so.
A word of warning: you should grant an Enduring Power of Attorney only to someone you trust completely. The document authorises another person to make decisions on your behalf – so it should be granted to one or more trustworthy people who will make decisions with your best interests at heart.
Gabrielle Canny is director of the Legal Services Commission.

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