Advance care planning is a simple process that you can start today. It involves thinking about your values, beliefs and preferences for your future health and care while you are still able to make decisions and communicate your preferences and acceptable outcomes. It also involves discussing them with your loved ones and doctors, and documenting them.

Following this process will ensure your preferences are clear, that they are understood by your family and loved ones and they are accessible to health professionals.

What to consider

To effectively communicate your values and preferences to others, you must first know and understand these yourself. Take the time to consider the prompts below.

Consider your beliefs, values and preferences for your current and future health. Think about the medical treatment you may or may not want. This is no different to arranging your life insurance or your Will. There are no wrong answers to these questions.

Past experiences of health care

  • Have any past experiences of health care influenced your views on your future care? These may be positive or negative experiences that have happened to yourself or others.

Your current health

  • Do you feel you have a good understanding of your current health?
  • How does your current health affect your life?

Your future health

  • What makes life worth living? For example, talking to your family
  • What abilities do you need to maintain to preserve your dignity? For example, toileting independently
  • What if you cannot recognise or understand your family?
  • What if you cannot eat or drink?
  • What if you are not able to talk to your family and friends?
  • What if you lost your independence and needed help to do everything?
  • What short and long-term goals do you have? For example, attending a birthday, going on a holiday
  • What treatments will help you to live the way you want?
  • What would be your minimum acceptable outcome? For example, feed yourself, think for yourself
  • How may your beliefs about religion and spirituality affect your choice of medical treatments?
  • Are there any medical treatments that you feel strongly about, either having or not having? This should include life-prolonging treatments.

Talk about it with others

Speak to your family and others close to you about your views and preference for your medical care. A close or loving relationship does not always mean someone knows or understands your preferences.

The more your loved ones understand your preferences, the easier it will be for them to help guide your medical treatment.

To get some tips about talking to your loved ones about your plan, read about starting the conversation.

You should also speak to your doctor. They can provide you with information and advice regarding your current health situation and what may happen in the future.

Choose a substitute decision-maker

A substitute decision-maker is someone you choose to make medical treatment decisions on your behalf if you are not able to do so.

They should be somebody:

  • you trust
  • who is over 18 years
  • who will listen carefully to your values and preferences for future care
  • who will be comfortable making decisions in difficult situations

When choosing your substitute decision-maker, you should ask yourself the question: ‘Am I confident this person will make decisions based on what I would want?’

Some people to consider are your:

  • partner
  • friend
  • sibling
  • adult child
  • parent
  • religious advisor
  • legal representative

You may also choose a second person (an alternate substitute decision-maker). They will be called on if your substitute decision-maker is unable to make decisions on your behalf.

Your chosen substitute decision-maker may have to make important decisions on your behalf so it's important for them to understand what's involved with being a substitute decision-maker.

Substitute decision-makers may have different titles depending on the Australian state or territory you are in. Some of the titles used are:

  • Medical Treatment Decision-Maker or Medical Enduring Power of Attorney (Victoria)
  • Enduring Guardian or person responsible (New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia)
  • Enduring Power of Attorney (Queensland, ACT)
  • Substitute Decision-maker (South Australia)
  • Decision-maker (Northern Territory).

Record your choices

After you've thought about your future health care, discussed it with others and selected a substitute decision-maker, you should record your choices in the required document (or documents). The process of doing this varies between states and territories.

Completing these documents is the best way to make your preferences known about the type of treatment you would want if you are unable to participate in decisions and to ensure that family and health professionals respect these preferences.

After creating your documents, you should share copies with your substitute decision-maker, family, friends, carers and your doctors. This will ensure everyone knows what you want. We also recommend uploading your documents to My Health Record.

Find out how to record your choices in your state or territory.

Find out more about storing your advance care planning documents.

Get advice

If you have any questions about the process, contact our National Advance Care Planning Support ServiceTM on 1300 208 582. We're available 9am – 5pm, Monday – Friday (AEST).

Carol's story

Carol is in her seventies. She lives independently and alone in country Victoria. In 2015 Carol was given a number of major health diagnoses that sparked the beginning of her advance care planning journey.

At her doctor's suggestion, she started to write down the things that were important to her and her goals in life. Carol is satisfied that with her plan in place and in a supportive community, her clear preferences will be heard and respected if there ever comes a time when she couldn’t communicate them herself.

Read Carol's story

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Last updated: September 2023