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Legal Support Program

Cancer Council’s Legal Support Program provides vulnerable Victorians with advanced cancer with free legal support to assist with:

  • Basic Wills - a legal document that explains what you want to do with your property and belongings after you die. A basic Will is right for people with straightforward and uncomplicated circumstances such as leaving your entire estate to your spouse. We are unable to provide complex Wills involving trusts, businesses, overseas assets, and complicated family situations.
  • Powers of attorney – legal documents that allow you to choose who will make decisions about financial and personal matters if you are not able to make these decisions yourself.
  • Medical treatment decision maker – a legal document that identifies the person you choose to make medical treatment decisions for you when you’re no longer able to do so.

These legal services are provided by lawyers in the community who volunteer their time to assist Victorians unable to pay for advice. Cancer Council matches eligible people to the law firm. 

Eligibility criteria

People can access this service if they are:

  1. Considered as having advanced cancer OR
  2. Receiving community-based palliative care for cancer, AND
  3. Reside in Victoria

As part of the eligibility criteria, individuals will need to undergo a means test conducted by Cancer Council Victoria. 

Make a referral 

Complete the form below to find out if your patient is eligible and make a referral.

Complete form

Frequently asked questions

What is your new Legal Support Program?

Beginning 1 July 2023, Cancer Council Victoria is pleased to be introducing a free legal support service in partnership with participating Victorian law firms.

As part of this service, we can help eligible people with advanced cancer to access legal services to get support with basic Wills, Powers of Attorney and Medical Treatment Decision Maker arrangements.

What services will be offered?

Initially our legal support services will be limited to basic Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Medical Treatment Decision Maker arrangements.

In time, we may look to expand our service offerings to include workplace and small business support according to the needs of Victorians affected by cancer.

Why have you introduced this program?

Increasingly we’re hearing through our 13 11 20 cancer information and support line just how significant an impact a cancer diagnosis has on all aspects of a person’s life. Not only is there a physical and emotional toll on the individual, but cancer also impacts many practical matters that affect the whole family such as their finances, ability to work, childcare arrangements, superannuation, insurance and more.

As a result, Cancer Council Victoria has been building capacity in our Cancer Support Programs to help people manage these practical challenges. In 2020, we introduced a Financial Counselling Program to support Victorians with the cost of cancer. Following the success of this program and the high demand for practical support, we’re now in a position to expand these services further.

To date, we’ve referred Victorians needing legal assistance to the national Pro Bono Program run by our Cancer Council colleagues in New South Wales. We’re now pleased to be able to deliver a Victorian-based service. 

When will this change take effect?

Cancer Council Victoria will start delivering our free legal and financial support program on 1 July 2023. All existing referrals in place will continue to be provided as scheduled to ensure continuity of service.  

How do I make a referral?

Health service professionals can make a referral via our online  Cancer Support Referral Form.

To maximise your patient’s chance of a successful outcome, please familiarise yourself with our eligibility criteria and ensure your patient is ready to proceed prior to making a referral.

Referrals prior to 1 July will still go to Cancer Council NSW's Pro Bono Program.

What are the eligibility criteria?

To make best use of the limited resources we have, we prioritise people with advanced cancer without the means to access legal support to put their affairs in order.

To access a lawyer free-of-charge to make a basic Will, Power of Attorney and/or Medical Treatment Decision Maker arrangements, a person is eligible if they are:

  1. Considered as having advanced cancer OR
  2. Receiving community-based palliative care for cancer, AND
  3. Reside in Victoria

As part of this eligibility criteria, individuals will need to undergo a means test conducted by Cancer Council Victoria.

Please consider if your patient has sufficient means and motivation to find their own legal assistance. If they do, please, direct them to the Find Your Lawyer Referral Service via the Law Institute of Victoria website.

How is the means test applied?

The service aims to assist vulnerable Victorians that do not have the means to put their affairs in order. The means test that we will apply includes questions to identify Victorians at or below the poverty line. They will focus on whether the person receives a Centrelink benefit, the income of the main household earner, the person’s housing situation, whether they have a core activity restriction and the amount of money in their bank account.

If your patient would not feel comfortable answering questions like this, then it may be better to encourage them to make their own arrangements for legal assistance.

What is the referral process?

  1. Once you have submitted the referral via the Cancer Support Referral Form, you will receive a success message letting you know that we have received the referral.
  2. One of our Financial and Legal Support Program team will contact your patient within two business days to take further details and assess their eligibility for receiving a free service.
  3. Please note, we’ll attempt to contact the patient over two weeks, however if we’re unable to reach them, we will advise you of this.
  4. If eligible, we will then match them with a suitable lawyer. Where possible, this will be in their local area.
  5. Once the law firm has advised us of the outcome, we will let you know the outcome via email for your records.
  6. Finally, to help us improve our service and ensure patients have had a good experience with their matched law firm, we will reach out to them for feedback.

How long will it take once I make a referral?

The process may take about one month or longer from referral to completion of the service and hearing about the outcome. We aim to continually improve our systems through feedback and this total time may reduce.

How can I increase the likelihood of my patient's referral being successful?

We understand how frustrating it can be to refer someone for a service that they then don’t receive. In order to maximise the likelihood that we will be able to assist your patient, please consider the following when referring them to our service:

  1. Does the patient meet the eligibility criteria?
  2. Consider if they have sufficient means and motivation to find their own legal assistance.
  3. Check that the patient only needs a basic will. If their circumstances are complex, they will not be eligible or may be asked to pay for the preparation of the Will by the law firm.
  4. Ensure the patient is aware that the initial call from us will appear as ‘No Caller ID’ for privacy reasons. Be specific in your referral detail about the best times and days for us to call the patient.
  5. If we are unable to contact them within two weeks, we will contact you for assistance.
  6. Check that the patient is ready to proceed. For example, do they know who they want as their executor?

Please note that we are unable to assist with:

  • urgent Wills and
  • if there are concerns about the person’s cognitive capacity.

What are the benefits of running this program in Victoria?

A Victorian-based service allows us to build relationships with local service providers as well as understand and address the challenges unique to Victorians affected by cancer. This is particularly valuable given our state-based health system as well as the many laws, regulations, policies, and authorities operating within the Victorian jurisdiction.

Where are these legal service providers based?

We’re currently connecting with existing Victorian-based law firms who are working with Cancer Council NSW’s Pro Bono Program to identify partners to deliver our legal support services. We expect to grow this network over the coming months and anticipate that we will eventually have service providers located throughout Victoria, including regional and rural areas.

Will there be any impact to existing patients referred?

Our aim is for there to be no impact to people who have already been referred and are currently receiving support. They will continue to be supported by Cancer Council national Pro Bono Program until they have been connected with a pro bono professional or their case has otherwise been closed.

What counts as a 'basic' Will?

We are only able to offer access to basic Wills where a patient has simple circumstances. Blended families or complicated family dynamics, wanting to set up a trust, having assets overseas or owning a business are examples of complicated life circumstances that require a complex Will to be drawn up. Unfortunately, we are unable to help in those circumstances.

Is my patient ready to proceed?

We would like to link eligible patients with a service provider promptly. If the patient is not ready to proceed with preparing a Will or Power of Attorney, then we may be unable to assist them.

The following should be checked with the patient prior to referring them for a basic Will, Power of Attorney and/or Medical treatment Decision Maker authority.

 If they don't yet have answers to the following, please encourage them to do so before referring them to ensure they're ready to proceed.

For Wills

  • Does the patient know who they want to appoint as executor for their Will?
  • Does the patient know who they would like to leave their estate to?

For Powers of Attorney / Medical Treatment Decision Making:

  • Does the patient know who they would like to appoint?
  • Has the patient asked that person?

Can you facilitate urgent referrals?

We are unable to accept referrals for palliative care in-patients who are approaching end-of-life as we cannot guarantee that the patient will be able to be successfully matched with a lawyer within a short period of time (i.e., less than four weeks). We suggest that arrangements be made directly with an available lawyer via the Law Institute of Victoria Find Your Lawyer Referral Service.

What if there are concerns about the patient's cognitive capacity?

If there are any concerns at all about a person’s capacity, including if there is a concern that the person may imminently lose cognitive function, please do not make a referral as we will not be able to assist them.

Please do not make a referral if:

  • There are any concerns about the person’s cognitive capacity,
  • the person is heavily medicated,
  • the person’s cognition is fluctuating,
  • there are concerns the person may imminently lose cognitive capacity.

My patient already has a Will but wants to make some changes. Can I refer them?

If a patient already has a Will and it has been prepared within the past five years, then ask the patient to return to the lawyer who drafted the Will to make changes. A referral to this service is not appropriate.

Lawyers will not make changes to or check existing Wills (including Will kits) – they are only able to prepare new Wills.

My patient has already sought assistance from a lawyer but wants a second opinion. Can I refer them?

No. This service is for people with advanced cancer that cannot afford to pay for assistance.

My patient has previously been referred to Pro Bono, can I refer them again?

Patients can be referred to the service once per legal issue (e.g., they can only be referred once for a Will, Power of Attorney, Medical Treatment Decision Maker)

If your patient was referred to Cancer Council NSW’s Pro Bono Program recently but was not in a position to proceed, please call the NSW Pro Bono team to confirm on probono@cancercouncil.org.au or call 1300 856 199.

My patient has a partner/carer that also wants to prepare their Will. Are they eligible for a free Will?

No. The current service is only available free for people with cancer that meet the eligibility criteria and means test. The law firm may offer to also prepare your patient’s partner’s Will for a fee.

Do you have any patient handouts or information? 

You can direct patients to our website for more information under 'Get support', 'Financial and Legal Support'. 

Hard copy materials that you can leave with patients will be developed and available during the second half of 2023.

How will your new service differ from the current offering?

Our service offering will be focusing on legal referral pathways in the first instance, in addition to our current financial counselling service. Financial Planning, small business and HR support will not be part of the VIC-based program initially. However, we will be building clear referral pathway options to ensure that people affected by cancer receive the most appropriate support in a timely manner.

Where do I go for more information?

We welcome your questions and feedback. If the answer to your question is not addressed by the FAQs then please contact Kerry McKenzie, Manager of Supportive Care Programs by email at kerry.mckenzie@cancervic.org.au or by telephone on 03 9514 6109.

For information about Cancer Council’s national Pro Bono Program email probono@cancercouncil.org.au or call 1300 856 199.

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