Organising your personal, financial and legal affairs, collecting all the paperwork and making decisions you may not be ready for, such as writing your will or choosing the type of funeral you would like, can be hard. However, doing this can bring a sense of relief and can allow you to focus on treatment and living.
Talk to your lawyer or a financial planner about your specific legal and financial situation, as rules and regulations differ for each state and territory in Australia.
It’s a good idea to have all of your paperwork in one place. This will make it easier if, for example, you need to be in hospital for a long time and a family member has to help you with financial and legal matters. Important documents to get together might include:
Discuss your legal arrangements with your family, and tell someone close where you keep your legal documents or how to contact your lawyer.
A will is a binding document outlining who should receive your assets (possessions and property) after your death. These assets are called your estate.
A will authorises a person (your executor) to act according to your wishes and to administer your estate. If you do not write a will, the law provides guidelines on how your estate will be distributed. This can cause further financial and emotional stress for family members at an already difficult time. If you already have a will from before the cancer diagnosis, you may want to review it to make sure it reflects your current wishes.
You can appoint someone to make decisions for you if at some point in the future you’re not able to make them yourself. This can include decisions about your finances, property, medical care and lifestyle. This person, called a substitute decision maker, should be someone you trust, who will listen carefully to your values and wishes for future care. You need to be an adult and have capacity (see opposite) when you appoint this person.
Depending on where you live, the documents used to appoint a substitute decision maker have different names. These can include an enduring power of attorney, enduring power of guardianship or appointment of enduring guardian.
Your doctor or another health professional may recommend that you think about making an advance care directive. In some states and territories the advance care directive is referred to as an advance health directive, advance care plan or living will. This document outlines the medical treatment you do or don’t want to have.
An advance care directive can provide you, your family and carers the opportunity to take control of decisions that affect your care, if at some point in the future you no longer have the capacity to make them yourself.
You can make the advance care directive as simple or as detailed as you like. If you have religious beliefs that may affect your health care decisions, you can record these in your advance care directive. You need to be an adult and have capacity to make an advance care directive.
When you make a will, appoint a substitute decision maker or write an advance care directive, you need to be an adult and have capacity at the time of signing a document. Having capacity means you are able to understand the choices that are available and the consequences of your decisions, and are able to communicate your choices. If there could be any doubt about your capacity, it’s a good idea to get a doctor’s certificate to verify this.
Keep a copy of your advance care directive for yourself and also give copies to your GP, oncologist, substitute decision maker, solicitor and a family member or friend. You can ask your doctor or the hospital to place the plan on your medical record.
For more information see our advance care planning webinars.
There are grounds for accessing your superannuation (retirement fund) early, such as to help cover the costs of medical treatment, severe financial hardship, or if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness. For more information visit the Australian Government Department of Human Services at www.humanservices.gov.au.
To find any missing or forgotten funds, contact the Australian Taxation Office (you will need your tax file number ready) and ask them to search for it. Check that you have nominated a person to receive your benefit upon your death, known as a death benefit nomination with your superannuation fund. Visit www.ato.gov.au or call 13 10 20.
Often people don’t know that they have insurance attached to their superannuation. Many funds offer insurance by default. Common types of insurance provided can include income protection, total and permanent disability and death cover.
There is help available if you are having difficulty paying your utility bills, such as water, gas and electricity. Options include flexible payment arrangements or there may be discounts, rebates or concessions available.
Check with the hospital social worker what options are available in your state and territory.
This is only an introduction to these topics. Cancer Council’s book Cancer and Your Finances has more detailed information.
You may wish to plan your funeral or memorial service so that it will be conducted according to your wishes and so your family won’t have to guess what you would have wanted.
It is probably not easy for most of us to hear or think about the reality of what is involved in funerals. However, there can be a satisfaction in leaving your mark on the occasion, and also involving your family beforehand.
If you would like to know more about the practical and emotional aspects of dying, see Facing End of Life.