Understanding advance care planning

Advance care planning is a routine part of a person’s healthcare. It is the process of making what’s important to you clear in the event that you cannot make or communicate decisions about your treatment and care.

It is important to carry out advance care planning before an urgent issue arises. It is never too early to plan. By carrying out advance care planning, your substitute decision-makers, family, carers and healthcare providers will be aware of what is important to you. It can help to ensure that any decisions they may need to make for you, are consistent with your values, beliefs and preferences

Benefits of planning ahead

It is important to carry out advance care planning before an urgent issue arises.

Planning ahead:

  • helps to ensure your wishes are respected
  • means your views about what you would or would not like to happen to you can be stated and respected (for example, you may want to die at home, or you may want to refuse certain medical treatments)
  • provides an opportunity to discuss and resolve any outstanding issues with your substitute decision-maker(s), carers, family and friends
  • gives you, your carers, family, friends and healthcare providers peace of mind when everyone is clear on your choices
  • can support your substitute decision-maker(s), carers, family and healthcare providers to make decisions on your behalf in a crisis.

Read more about the steps to advance care planning.

Read more about capacity issues.

Who can undertake advance care planning?

Anyone can carry out the process of advance care planning. However, you must have decision-making capacity and be aged 18 or over to complete legal documents, for example an Advance Health Directive or an Enduring Power of Attorney form.

Starting your conversation

Many topics may be covered through the process of advance care planning. You might not be able to cover all of these in one conversation. It is normal for advance care planning to be carried out, and for your preferences to change, over time.

Some of the topics you may wish to consider include:

  • what is important to you and enriches your quality of life
  • your goals, views, values and beliefs
  • your medical conditions, how they might progress and your treatment options
  • future healthcare you would want to receive or refuse and how to communicate and record any decisions you make
  • making clear who you would like to be involved in your future care and decision-making
  • where you would prefer to be cared for, and how this may affect your treatment options
  • your social, emotional, spiritual and cultural support needs
  • access and/or transition to other services, such as to palliative care or other community care services
  • your wishes in relation to resuscitation (CPR) planning and other potentially life prolonging treatments
  • financial considerations, will and estate planning
  • funeral planning and your wishes in relation to organ or tissue donation.

The topics covered in advance care planning can sometimes be difficult to think or talk about. It is normal to feel sadness when discussing end of life issues. But the risk of not talking about this is that your healthcare team and family won’t know what you want.

It is important to remember that advance care planning is a process, and you can revisit it more than once. You don’t have to cover it all the first time you talk about it.


There are a range of resources available to help you start the conversation.

  • Dying to Talk has tools to guide advance care planning, including a discussion starter, card game and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-specific resources
  • Life Circle has information and resources to help people with advance care planning conversations
  • MyValues allows you to create your own values profile
  • Advance Care Planning Australia provides information and resources

My Health Record, an Australian Government initiative, allows you to upload your advance care planning documents so that healthcare providers can access them from anywhere at any time.If you require extra support, please speak with your healthcare team or read more about emotional support.