While the Covid-19 variant Omicron may be clinically “mild” for many people (and the jury is still out on that), for some of the population it may not be. Many of us with chronic conditions may have conditions that make catching Covid-19, any variant, a riskier proposition for us. Talk to your general practitioner about your condition/(s) and your risks.
While Covid-19 is not the only driver for any of us to consider our legal documentation – it is particularly pertinent at this time and has certainly prompted me to get my affairs in order.
I am not a lawyer or a doctor: I am a rather experienced chronic illness patient. I am conversant with my risk profile. On that basis the last thing I want to do is leave my family with a medico/legal battle should I end up in difficulty. I want to make things as easy as I possibly can for those left to finalise my affairs.
While we don’t like to think of such things it is important to consider and prepare legal documents ahead of time. The links I am providing in this article relate to Victoria, Australia, however you will find similar in your location.
The details in this article are neither exhaustive nor comprehensive. This aim of this article is to list the documents that it may be appropriate to consider and information links.
Advanced Care Plan/Directive
This you organise with your doctor although lawyers will draft a document for you. Details can be found at advancecareplanning.org.au. Note there are differences between states. This is a document wherein you can detail your wishes about treatment under a range of possible medical or surgical situations.
Appointment of a Medical Decision Maker
Details of appointing a Medical Decision Maker can be found on the website of the Office of the Public Advocate. This can be in place of a Medical Power of Attorney.
You have the right to make your own medical treatment decisions.
However, if you experience an injury or illness that means you are unable to make decisions, either temporarily or permanently, If this happens to you, Victoria’s Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act 2016 specifies who has legal authority to make medical treatment decisions for you. This person is called your medical treatment decision maker.
You can choose your medical treatment decision maker by appointing someone to this role, providing you have decision-making capacity to do so.https://www.publicadvocate.vic.gov.au/your-rights/your-healthcare/appointing-a-medical-treatment-decision-maker
Enduring Powers of Attorney for Financial, Medical Treatment & Personal Decisions
Details about Enduring Powers of Attorney can also be found on the Office of the Public Advocate.
These ensure that someone you trust can make decisions for you if and when you are unable to make decisions. Given the current studies around cognitive deficits and brain damage in Covid-19 patients, death is not the only concern.
Cognitive deficits in people who have recovered from COVID-19 is an article published by The Lancet.
The Mayo Clinic advises:
Although COVID-19 is seen as a disease that primarily affects the lungs, it can also damage many other organs, including the heart, kidneys and the brain. Organ damage may lead to health complications that linger after COVID-19 illness.https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351
Voluntary Assisted Dying (Victoria)
Under current legislation in Victoria your appointed medical decision maker cannot request VAD on your behalf. The Victorian Government has a website detailing the legislation, Voluntary Assisted Dying. Note that this CANNOT be prepared in advance of any requirement. The criteria are very strict under the current legislation. I include it here only to highlight this is not something that can be prepared in advance, nor can you instruct your medical decision maker to request it, as that is not permitted.
Only you can start a discussion with your doctor or health practitioner about voluntary assisted dying. Your doctor or health practitioner cannot start the discussion. Your family member or friend can be with you when you ask about voluntary assisted dying, but they cannot ask for you. This helps to make sure your decision to seek voluntary assisted dying is voluntary.https://www.health.vic.gov.au/patient-care/do-i-meet-the-conditions-for-voluntary-assisted-dying
Last Will & Testament
There are many available links. I have chosen the Australian Seniors Understanding a Last Will & Testament in Layman’s Terms as a the resource I am providing.
As many people remarry, please note the following:
Marrying (or remarrying) automatically cancels your Will, unless your Will clearly shows you were planning this marriage when you made it.https://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/find-legal-answers/wills-and-estates/changing-will
I mention that specifically because I had that exact discussion with friends of mine recently who actually couldn’t remember when they had made their last wills. Dying intestate is not a financially sensible option as there are fees for the state to administer the estate.
If someone dies without a will, they die intestate. Being intestate means that the laws of the state or territory they live in will decide how their estate is administered. An estate is made up of a person’s assets and liabilities.https://www.statetrustees.com.au/executor-services/learn-more-about-executor-services/what-happens-if-someone-dies-without-a-will?gclid=Cj0KCQiA5aWOBhDMARIsAIXLlkcSG2I6utkyILW0VXnAdvm9SddjCIGePIRVIdnyUOT8-ltbXsxSJdQaArewEALw_wcB
Superannuation & Life Insurance
Superannuation and life insurance do not automatically form part of your estate. Superannuation particularly often requires a Binding Nomination form be submitted to the superannuation company and updated every three years (annoyingly).
I strongly suggest your check your specific situation with your life insurance and superannuation companies. The following is the HESTA website as an example.
It’s not the happiest subject – but it’s super important…who will get your super when you die? To be more certain it will go to the people you want, you can sign a binding death benefit nomination.https://www.hesta.com.au/members/your-superannuation/accessing-your-super/binding-death-benefit-nominations
Take care, stay safe.
Edited to add: Since I wrote this article in December 2021, Four Corners have done a feature:
Some 50,000 Australians are currently under the control of Public Guardian and Trustee agencies around the country.
By law, these ‘clients’ are banned from speaking out about what happens to them, and journalists can be fined or jailed for reporting on them.https://www.abc.net.au/4corners/state-control:-australians-trapped,-stripped-of/13795520
Although I alluded to this issue in the article above, I didn’t go into detail. If you have not seen this episode, I highly recommend you watch it.