If retirement’s a dream, getting older can be a legal nightmare
From estate planning and formalising a will to making sure someone knows your health care preferences – the legalities involved in getting older can be overwhelming. Here, legal aged care expert Madeline Walsh explains why you need to sort your affairs earlier rather than later and where to start.
The legalities involved in getting older can be overwhelming.
They’re important decisions but with them comes a lot of emotional stress, especially because, really they force you to consider your future in very real terms.
You may be deciding what will happen to your assets when you pass on. You may be deciding who you would like to be involved with decisions about your care, and particularly who’s going to look after you and make choices for you if you lose capacity.
All of those things are not usually decisions you can make without careful thought and emotional energy.
That’s why you need to start planning early.
You might hear this advice all the time but the truth is it’s best to do it while you have some clear head space, rather than waiting until you have an event in your life that may take some of the choices out of your hands.
It’s best to do it while you have some clear head space, rather than waiting until you have an event in your life that may take some of the choices out of your hands.
Otherwise, suddenly you may find yourself making decisions about potentially going into aged care or getting help at home – with the added stress of rushing things.
Embrace your family’s help (and their opinions)
Having conversations with your family early and doing it in a way that normalises the process can be an enormous help.
Discuss it early and often with your friends and your loved ones, because it really does open up the lines of communication so that you and they feel comfortable that you’re happy about where things are headed.
Let’s face it – the person you appoint to manage your affairs if you lose capacity really needs to know your preferences and goals, and to be able to deliver them for you. So make that decision wisely and with your wishes at its core.
And it doesn’t just have to be one person.
You can appoint, for example, one person to make all decisions on your behalf or you can appoint different people to do different things. You might have a trusted friend or loved one who you would like to make personal decisions or decisions about your health care and treatment, and you might have another person with whom you would be comfortable making decisions about your finances.
If you have a think about who those people might be, and what decisions you might like them to make on your behalf, it can really put your mind at ease.
Get the paperwork sorted (for you and your family’s sake)
A will is a vital document, but you would be surprised to know how many people are unprepared. It helps to ensure that your estate is administered in a way that you expect it to be, and makes the process for the person who’s managing your affairs far more simple.
You also need to document your health care preferences – both the broader things and the really specific things like palliative care and resuscitation – and also what you would like in regards to your spiritual or religious preferences.
It’s good to talk with both your loved ones and a medical professional about those decisions and work out what you want. Again, talk early and often about these things so your wishes are followed when it matters.
Where else can you get advice?
It’s always good to talk among your networks at first instance. Your friends and family can share the emotional workload and help you manage any tricky decisions.
Then there’s a range of places where you can get professional advice: your GP about your medical wishes, a financial planner or an accountant to talk about estate planning, and there’s also advocacy and community legal groups that you can access to get legal advice in relation to things like having a power of attorney, or wills.
What is my number one tip?
Be curious and don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek advice. There are lots of resources available to help you understand the decisions you need to make. Seeking information is a way to take these matters into your own hands and make sure that your later years in life play out the way that you want them to.
For example, if you’re entering into a contract for a retirement village or an aged care facility, it’s really important to take that agreement away, take the time to understand it and ask questions because the terminology and financial arrangements can be very complex. Don’t think about signing things like that on the spot. Go away, read it and get a detailed understanding of it. Ask for help if you need it.
If you’re entering into a contract for a retirement village or an aged care facility, it’s really important to take that agreement away, take the time to understand it and ask questions.
It should be an empowering experience, because it allows you to take control of your own destiny. But it can be complex – so seek counsel in your network.
I will say this: before you make any final decisions there’s no harm in going away and sleeping on it. After all, it’s your life and no one else’s.
Madeline Walsh is a Partner in the Aged Care and Retirement Living team at Thomson Geer and a member of the Queensland Law Society Elder Law Committee.
Helpful links and contacts
The Queensland Government: www.qld.gov.au
The Public Trustee of Queensland: https://www.pt.qld.gov.au/
Phone: 1300 360 044
The Seniors Legal and Support Service (SLASS) – Caxton Legal Centre Inc.
Phone: 07 3214 6333
The Office of the Public Guardian
Phone: 1300 653 187