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Planning for end of life

Start the conversation

Many of us don’t like talking about the type of care we want at the end of our lives. But it’s only through these conversations that we can let people know about the care we want and the things we value.

This can be a difficult subject to bring up with friends and family.

For more tips on how to start the conversation visit the Dying to Talk website.

Questions to think about when planning for end of life

If you haven’t already considered your end-of-life care options, you may want to think about:

  • What do you want for your end-of-life care?
  • Would your loved ones know what you want for your end-of-life care?
  • Who would make decisions about your end-of-life care if you were no longer able to?

You may have other more specific considerations, such as:

  • When the time comes, where would you like to receive care (home, hospice, hospital)?
  • What does your end-of-life care look like? Have you spoken with a health professional about it?
  • Who would you want to be with you when you die?
  • What would be in your advance care plan and/or directive?
  • Who will you choose as your decision maker if you are unable to speak for yourself?

Advance care planning

Advance care planning helps you think about your future medical treatment and health care needs. By creating a plan in advance, your family, friends, carers and doctors can understand how you would like to be cared for both now and in the future. This is important whether you are healthy or have an illness. Everyone should consider advance care planning, regardless of age or health.

A good advance care plan may:

  • show how to manage pain and other symptoms
  • show how to give cultural, emotional and spiritual support
  • help family members make decisions about care options
  • help those involved know what to expect
  • show how to support families and carers through the bereavement process.

Based on your values and preferences, an advance care plan outlines how you want to be cared for if you cannot communicate decisions about your medical care. This will make it easier for your family and friends to make informed decisions on your behalf, because you have outlined your wishes. It can also help your family, friends, carers and doctors with difficult decisions about treatment when you may no longer be able to have your say.

You can create an advance care plan that may include:

  • an Advance (Health or Care) Directive (or other similar document)
  • an enduring power of attorney (or other similar document)
  • a letter to the person who will be responsible for your decision making
  • an entry in your medical record
  • instructions which clearly voice your view.

Each state and territory has different names for the documents you can use to create an advance care plan. Find out more about these and the process from Advance Care Planning Australia. Additionally Start2talk by Dementia Australia has information on planning ahead. This may help if you develop a condition such as dementia which affects memory and planning abilities.

You may choose to give someone you trust an enduring power of attorney or enduring guardianship to make medical treatment and other decisions if you are no longer able to do so. The requirements for these vary from state to state. They must be made while you are still fully able to understand the action you are taking.

Medicines used in end-of-life care

Access to medicines is an important part of end-of-life care. Doctors, aged care or palliative care providers will make sure the appropriate medicines are prescribed. Many medicines used in end-of-life care are available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).  

NPS MedicineWise also provides information about the use of medicines. The NPS Medicines Line (1300 633 424) is available to give information about medicines, doses, interactions and side effects. 

Costs

Depending on the circumstances, costs involved with end-of-life care could include:

  • medicines – may be available through the PBS
  • fees for private hospital patients – usually covered by private health insurance. Ask your health insurance fund.
  • equipment to use at home – you may have to pay to use equipment such as hospital beds, wheelchairs or commodes at home
  • medical supplies – you may need to pay for these
  • palliative care services – most are free through Medicare. You can check the National Palliative Care Service Directory to find a palliative care service in your local area.
  • costs for aged care services provided in your home or an aged care home.

Carers may be able to get some medicines or supplies through their hospital. This will vary between each state and territory.

Financial advice

The Department of Human Services (DHS) can help with financial information or payments for carers:

  • social workers can help by providing confidential counselling, support and information
  • the Financial Information Service is a free, confidential service. It can help people make decisions about investment and financial issues for their current and future needs.
  • authorising a person or organisation to be your nominee or make DHS payments and service enquiries on your behalf
  • payments to assist when caring for someone who has a life-limiting illness
  • financial support following the death of a partner.

Useful resources and contacts

There are useful resources and contacts that can provide support for end-of-life planning and care, for patients, carers, family or friends.

Last reviewed: 14 May, 2018.