The importance of an advance care directive

Older lady writing an advanced care directive with a younger lady

No one ever wants to consider a time where they will be unable to make a decision for themselves, but unfortunately we never know what the future may hold. No matter what age or stage of life you’re in, it’s important to consider your preferences for care and how you would like to live out your days. According to Advance Care Planning Australia, more than 50 percent of Australians will not be able to make their own medical decisions at end-of-life but only 15 percent of people have an advance care directive.

What is an advanced care directive?

An advanced care directive is a document that outlines your preferences when it comes to the type of care and treatment you’d like to receive. This document will also ensure that your values and beliefs are clear to those closest to you, as well as your health care providers. Simply put, it’s a way to give instructions about what you’d like to happen with your future care if you’re unable to do so.

It also allows you to formally appoint a substitute decision maker should a situation arise when you’re unable to make a decision for yourself.

Why do I need an advance care directive?

Having an advance care directive means that you will receive the care that you want. Having a directive that outlines your wishes means that your loved ones won’t have to guess and it will help ease the stress in what may be a very difficult time. It will assist family and health care providers to make necessary decisions.

Without a care directive, or if you haven’t appointed someone to make decisions on your behalf, and you become seriously ill or injured, doctors will make care decisions based on their assessment. This may include treatments that you would not want.

When should you create an advance care directive?

The best time to create an advance care directive is when you’re healthy and before a crisis, when there isn’t an urgent need for a directive.

It becomes more important to make an advance care directive as we get older, if we develop a chronic or terminal illness or are diagnosed with cognitive decline (such as Alzheimer’s disease).

An advance care directive versus an advance care plan

You may have heard both terms used, but is there a difference? Aren’t they just the same thing? In fact, they’re not. An advance care directive is a legally-binding document that outlines the directions around your preferred care and treatments as well as your values and beliefs. Your health care provider is legally bound to follow your directive.

An advance care plan is created on behalf of someone else who is unable to make their own decisions when it comes to their care. A plan can outline a person’s values and preferences and can assist substitute decision-makers and healthcare providers, but they are not legally bound to follow it.

How do I make an advance care directive?

To make an advance care directive, you must be over 18 and have decision making capacity. You don’t need a lawyer to make an advance care directive. Each state and territory have different processes and names of documents, to find out what is available in your state click here

Most states will have a specific form you need to complete:

New South Wales


South Australia: Online or download a form


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