When Kerrie’s husband was severely brain damaged after being hit by a car she thought her nightmare couldn’t get any worse. But it did – all because of the lack of a signature on a piece of paper.
Without that vital signature giving her power of attorney, Kerrie couldn’t access the family bank account, which was under the sole control of her hospitalised husband, who no longer had decision-making powers. The mother of two’s plight was compounded by having to negotiate legal and administrative processes over many months that left her and family members emotionally drained and on the skids financially.
Kerry explains, “The starting point of my experience was 10 years ago, one week after my husband’s accident when I was unable to access his wages from his account to pay household bills. I had missed an appointment we had made with a solicitor to obtain power of attorney for each other before my husband travelled overseas. This created a financial nightmare for myself and my two children. I had to go before a tribunal and be appointed my husband’s guardian and be made his financial manager under the close scrutiny of the Protective Commissioner.”
“I was put in a situation where I was accountable for ever dollar of my husband’s wage I spent. My children were suffering badly enough at this stage but to have to tell them they couldn’t have special treats as before because all their father’s money was being overseen by the PC was very hard for them to understand.”
Sadly, Kerrie is not alone. Unforeseen circumstances regularly place people in situations where they are unable to decide things for themselves – with potentially drastic ramifications for their loved-ones.
The Benevolent Society has gathered many case histories of Australians whose financial and personal affairs have been affected through a lack of planning for the future. The Society has also produced a free booklet – “Your Future Starts Now” – that outlines steps to protect the interests of individuals and families and make sure things are done the way they want.
American-born Adelaide had been living in Sydney for more than 50 years. She had never married or had children. She had no family in Australia although she had some special friends. She ran her own business until she was in her early 80s. Always an organised person, she made sure she planned for her affairs so things would be done the way she wanted, even if the time came she couldn’t decide for herself.
Adelaide talked to her doctor and her friends, and told them that she wanted to enjoy her golf and time in her own home as long as possible. Now 88 years of age, she wrote in her Enduring Guardianship document that she only wanted to be kept as comfortable and free from pain as possible.
“I consider an unacceptable level of functioning for me to include an inability to feed or wash myself or control my bowels i.e. complete dependence on someone else for personal care, or, a state of chronic incurable pain. Under these circumstances, I specify No CPR and palliative care only. Care would be a gigantic waste of time and money…hospital beds and nursing services are urgently needed elsewhere,” said Adelaide.
The NSW Minister for Ageing and Minister for Disability Services, Kristina Keneally MP, officially launched the guide in Sydney today.
In a partnership with Public Trustee NSW and with input from a range of experts, the booklet covers useful information on the how, what, when and why of:
- Enduring Powers of Attorney
- Enduring Guardianship
- Advance Care Directives
The Society said latest research on attitudes and responses to planning for the future showed that:
- Only around 45 per cent of people aged 45 years and over have a will in place (unless they do not have any assets);
- Only an estimated 11 per cent of people have organised an enduring power of attorney;
- It is uncommon for people aged 65 years and over to have organised an enduring power of attorney or enduring guardianship;
- Advance health care directives are very uncommon;
- Money matters and such like are often seen as personal and sensitive;
- Adult children may be reluctant to initiate discussions about future planning with their parents.
- Conversely, older people may not want to “burden” their children by raising it;
- Speaking about planning ahead is seen by some as having the potential to create family conflict and highlight rifts;
- Some people are superstitious about planning ahead, believing that voicing issues of death or illness may be “tempting fate.”
The Benevolent Society’s General Manager on Ageing, Barbara Squires, said the Society was a long-time advocate of future planning on financial and personal affairs to avoid potential disappointment and turmoil in later life.
Ms Squires said the Society was buoyed by the Federal Government’s Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which last year recommended an awareness campaign to promote powers of attorney and advance care directives and their advantages for older people.
The Committee found there were many barriers to older people accessing legal services, including the nature of the legal system and personal factors such as health, mobility, financial capacity and social networks.
“Most experts in the field say enduring powers of attorney should be widely encouraged. The risk of losing capacity faces all people, not just older people,” Ms Squires said.
Thinking about what you would like for the future and then, perhaps, organising a enduring power of attorney and so on can save those close to you a great deal of trouble and heartache. Not only will they then know what you would have wanted, but it can also avoid them having to go through the legal system at what is usually a very difficult time. ’Your Future Starts Now’ is a starting point. It demystifies the process and points people in the right direction for more information.