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Australia’s ageing population is one of the most certain and challenging trends facing our communities.

While there has been much discussion about the impacts it will have on our economy and healthcare system, far less discussed are the potential issues this creates at the family level – and how to plan for the inevitable impacts of ageing.

It’s an important fact that ageing often goes hand-in-hand with cognitive decline – and the inevitable need for families and carers to step in and make decisions when an individual no longer can make them for themselves. It’s not unusual for family members to have very different views about what can, or should be done.

It’s an issue which can be eased if the individual themselves has planned ahead and made some key decisions – including nominating a person to act as an Enduring Attorney. This means the person nominated can take action on the person’s behalf in accordance with their instructions, and with their best interests in mind. The attorney cannot take any action that benefits themselves or others unless it’s expressly permitted in the document which legally nominates them for this role.

An Enduring Power of Attorney covers matters relating to finance and property, and ‘personal’ decisions such as choice of accommodation, but does not extend to decisions about care or medical treatment. For this reason, a person appointed under and Enduring Power of Attorney should know enough about the person’s financial affairs, to protect against risks such as late payment fees or the forfeiture of property/share entitlements.

Carrying out the responsibilities associated with Enduring Power of Attorney can be complicated depending on family circumstances, and sometimes simply time consuming.

If you’re considering appointing an Enduring Attorney, it may be a good idea to document some of the things you would like to happen should you become incapacitated.

In any case, planning and giving some thought to who you would appoint is a sensible decision – as if having the discussion with whoever that might be. Taking this action has the benefit of protecting your interests the way you would want, and avoiding poor decisions by family members who may have the best of intentions but are acting for you in a time of stress and without a full understanding of your wishes.