If you suddenly became too unwell to communicate your final wishes, would your family know what to do? Preparing for death might be daunting to think about – but not knowing how to honour a loved one’s wishes is an issue many Australian families face due to a lack of planning and communication…


In Australia, 82% of people think it is important to talk to their family about how they want to be cared for at the end of their life, but only 28% have done so.

In light of Dying to Know Day which is on August 8, we encourage you to think about what will be important to you at your end of life, and talk about it with others. This might be uncomfortable – but preparing for death will save you and your loved ones from needless anxiety when the time does inevitably come. Keeping your family at the front of your mind can give you the motivation to get started.


This process is far less overwhelming if you have a framework to follow – and it’s never too early to plan for death. If you’re not sure where to start, here are the steps you can work through to be prepared, gain peace of mind and ensure you have a say in everything.

1. Estate planning

What do you want to happen to your assets? And who do you want to manage them for you? These are the two primary elements of estate planning: preparing your will and appointing an executor.


Preparing a will

A will is a legal document that clearly sets out your wishes for the distribution of your assets after your death.

It is important to understand that not all assets are automatically covered by your will. Assets held jointly with another person, such as real estate and bank accounts, and family trusts do not automatically pass through your will.

This may also be the case for your superannuation and life insurance, which aren’t covered in DIY will kits. So you will need to speak with your providers about how these are paid out, then make appropriate plans with a lawyer.

Preparing your will is also an opportunity to think about whether you would like assets to be held in a trust for loved ones, or if you’d like to distribute money to charitable organisations.

Seeking legal advice is the best way to ensure all of your assets are handled in accordance with your wishes. A professional can also advise you on the tax considerations associated with all of these decisions.


Appointing an executor

The executor of your estate will assume the legal responsibilities and risk associated with its administration. You have the option of appointing an individual executor or a professional executor.

A professional executor may be useful if you have a complex estate, there a chance of a claim against the estate, there is the possibility for family conflict or your estate will need to be administered for many years to come.

This is a brief overview of the estate planning process, and you will find more information in the How to Plan for Successful Ageing Guide.


2. Appointing attorneys and enduring guardians

Appointing a power of attorney or enduring guardian means you are authorising someone to make decisions on your behalf when you’re no longer able to. There is some variance in how these roles function between the states, but this is a general overview of the ways you can appoint people to make decisions for you:

  • Power of Attorney: This person has the power to deal with your assets and financial/business affairs during your lifetime.
  • Enduring Power of Attorney: This person can continue to make decisions for you, even when you lose legal capacity. This extends to financial affairs, buying and selling assets, and managing your bank account.
  • Enduring Guardian: This person has the power to make personal or lifestyle decisions for you when you are not capable of doing this for yourself. This extends to where you live, and consent to medical treatments and personal services.

Your local state government website will have forms you can use for appointing attorneys and enduring guardians.

3. Advance Care Directive

An Advance Care Directive comes into effect if your cognitive health deteriorates and you become unable to make your own decisions. This document outlines what medical treatments or healthcare you want if you can no longer make decisions for yourself, and who you would like to make decisions on your behalf.

It can be as simple as declaring whether you wish to receive all available treatment. Or you can specify certain medical treatments you wish to decline, and whether you would like to donate your organs.

Once you prepare an Advance Care Directive, your family and health professionals must follow it. You can update it as many times as you wish.

Your state government will have Advance Care Directive resources and a form you can work through, and you can access these via Advance Care Planning Australia. If you’re not unsure about any terms within the form, it is a good idea to consult your doctor for clarification before making a decision.


4. Funeral Planning

If you have specific wishes for your funeral, you can set them out in your will, estate plan or other formal document. If these wishes are documented, your executors are legally obliged to follow them.

By documenting these wishes, you will also make it easier for your loved ones to make decisions for you. Things you may wish to think about include:

  • Whether you would prefer to be buried or cremated.
  • If you are buried, are there any possessions you would like to be buried with, or clothes you would like to be buried in?
  • If you are cremated, what would you like to happen with your ashes?
  • What type of funeral service would you like to have? Think about where you would like the service to take place, any special music you would like played or who you would like to speak at the service.
  • The contact details for people you would like invited that your family may not have.
  • How you plan to pay for the funeral or wake.


5. Making loved ones aware of your wishes

Planning ahead empowers you to have a say in your end of life. You will see that there is some overlap between these three steps, so by working through each one you will gain a lot of clarity about what is important to you and why.

When you do talk to your loved ones about your wishes, don’t forget to explain why these things are important to you (find tips about having difficult conversations in this article). This will help them to understand your point of view, even if they don’t necessarily agree with your wishes.

You can update these documents as many times as you wish, so don’t put it off because you aren’t sure whether your wishes will change in the future. But equally, do take your time to seek proper legal, accounting and medical advice to ensure you are making informed decisions.

You may also want to prepare a document with your digital passwords, so your loved ones can handle your online accounts for you.


Useful planning resources

Before you start, we recommend referring to the How to Plan for Successful Ageing Guide.

This 35-page guide is our most comprehensive resource on everything from superannuation to staying healthy as you age, and it will help you to think of the big picture.

Other resources you may find useful include: