When should I talk about advance care planning?

Encourage conversations

Serious illness or injury can mean that a person cannot make their own decisions about healthcare and treatment. Life is unpredictable, but making a plan early helps give the person, their family and their carers peace of mind.

Advance care planning is a normal part of life. Talking about values, beliefs and health and care preferences is an important part of family relationships and friendships. You can start the conversation today, even if the person isn't elderly or ill.

Sometimes, you may need to be involved in advance care planning for a friend or family member who is no longer able to make medical decisions. You may have been legally appointed to be their substitute decision-maker. You will be called upon when these people have lost their competence or capacity. The best way to approach this is to try to make the decision the person themselves would have made if they had been able to.

This means "standing in the shoes" of the person and seeing the choice to be made from the perspective they would have had.

But if they are still able to express some views about what they would want if they became very ill, it's a good time to bring up advance care planning. You can start the conversation and help them make a plan.

If someone has lost the capacity to make their own medical decisions, they cannot legally nominate someone to be their substitute decision-maker. However, family members and friends can still let doctors know what sort of treatments and care they believe this person would want. This advice is based on what you know about the person and what they have said to you in the past.

Making healthcare decisions for someone else can be difficult. If you are in a situation needing to do this, ask doctors, nurses and care workers for information. Ask for advice, based on what you know about the person.

The doctor, nurse or care worker can explain what is likely to happen in the future and can discuss treatment and care options available. Working with their care team, and based on what you know to be the person's views, you should be able to help document their wishes.

Make sure to use the right forms for your state or territory because each state has different legal requirements. Also, whether you are legally appointed decision-maker will affect what options you have for writing an advance care plan (depending on the state/territory where the person is being care for).

Father and son talking on the porch

Advance care planning for family, friends and carers

How do I start the conversation?

Talking about end-of-life care might be hard, but it's easier than not knowing what to do if a person became very ill.

Learn more

Related resources

  • Fact sheet

    Advance care planning fact sheet for individuals and family

    Advance Care Planning Australia

    Information about advance care planning for individuals and their families.
  • Fact sheet

    Advance care planning fact sheet for substitute decision-makers

    Advance Care Planning Australia

    Information about advance care planning for substitute decision-makers.
  • Website

    Dying to Talk Discussion Starter

    Palliative Care Australia

    The discussion starter guides you through the advance care planning discussion so you can prepare for talking to your family and friends, either online or with a booklet you can download.
  • Articles & Publications

    Advance care planning workbook

    Central Coast Local Health District

    A step-by-step workbook for individuals, carers and families on how to approach, discuss and start documenting your advance care planning preferences.

Was this page helpful?