End of Life Planning - My story

July 26, 2021
Dianah Walter

Have you made plans?  I have.

I was chatting to woman on the beach at Moonta Bay, near Simms Cove, recently about a range of things and the conversation turned to voluntary assisted dying, end of life choices, estate planning and advanced care directives.   It was an easy conversation.  Easier than most.

She was surprised when I told her that I had taken steps to ensure my end-of-life wishes were enshrined in legal documents and I was happy with my choices.  She had thought about it but hadn’t taken the next steps of actually doing it.  She thought she had time. Does she.  Do we?  

In the beat of a heart, quite literally for some, life can end.  We take for granted that each time we travel on our roads or undertake work in our ‘safe’ workplaces that we will return home safely.  Some do not.  

This is my story and my thoughts on end-of-life planning.  

My choice is roses. Yellow roses; many beautiful yellow roses, some in bud and some in full bloom; but all to be cast adrift on the sea, in Spencer Gulf at Moonta Bay by family and friends. (In SA you don’t need permissions to scatter ashes at sea however there are other considerations – so do check with the EPA)

The timing is uncertain and so it should be, but the place is definite.  This celebration and commemoration must take place in my sanctuary, and it must be at sunset.  

Today I am writing about my explicit wishes for a farewell upon my death and sharing it in case it helps you. Or someone close to you.

Do you have a valid Will?  If you do, when was it last updated?  Does it reflect your wishes and does your family know and understand and will they respect those wishes?

This subject may be confronting for some, but it need not be.  I have recently made the time to update a suite of important legal documents because my personal circumstances have changed.

I have updated my Will, my Enduring Power of Attorney, and an Advance Care Directive.   There is another document I have completed, and I will come to that.

Advance Care Planning Australia (ACPA) is a national program funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, enabling Australians to make the best choices for their future health and care.

A recent study conducted by ACPA found that “organisational sector type was the strongest predictor of advance care directive (ACD) prevalence, with significantly higher rates in Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) than in hospitals or GP clinics.”  

Of particular interest, the study found that RACFs in regional and remote or rural areas had higher prevalence rates than their metro counterparts.  You may read the full study here: Organisational and advance care planning program characteristics associated with advance care directive completion: a prospective multicentre cross-sectional audit among health and residential aged care services caring for older Australians

Whilst this subject is very personal, I do not have any reservations in sharing my thoughts.  Perhaps it is because I am more comfortable and confident in my choices and decisions than I have ever been. This is because I accept, with pragmatism, that from the day we are born we are on a trajectory towards death. 

In the contest of life, I have chosen to be proactive in so many ways.  It is cathartic on a spiritual and emotional level, but it also makes sense on a practical level.

So, what have I done? First and foremost, I have sought and gained the trust of people I love and respect.  I have entrusted special people in my life with a very important responsibility.  I have asked them to act confidently on my behalf, in the event that I cannot.  I have legally appointed those chosen to act for me through the mechanism of an Enduring Power of Attorney.  I have also asked them to execute my Will following my death.  Importantly, they have accepted this responsibility without reservation.

I have also updated an existing advance care directive.  This has enabled me to determine what I want to happen in relation to certain personal areas of my life.  This relates to my health care, residential and accommodation arrangements, and other personal affairs. 

In South Australia from 1 July 2014 the Advance Care Directives Act 2013 (SA) came into operation. This allows a person to:

  • set out values and wishes to guide decisions about their future healthcare and other personal matters
  • set out what, if any, particular healthcare they refuse and in what circumstances and
  • appoint one or more substitute decision-makers.

More here:

In terms of my Will - my instructions are also explicit.  In South Australia, it is important to note that if you die without a valid and up to date Will or without a Will altogether then you will have died 'intestate'. This means that South Australian laws will determine how your estate will be distributed.

Just a few examples of what might happen are:

  • Any real estate you own may be sold instead of being left to a loved one.
  • Special personal items, such medals of service may not be given to the family member of your choice.
  • Your grandchildren may not receive the benefits of your estate.

The ‘other document’ I referenced and what I consider being the most delicate and personal decision I have made is that I have decided to be a body donor.

Put simply, in the event of my death and if my remains are deemed to be acceptable for donation, I have chosen to donate my body to the Adelaide Medical School Body Donation Program.

My reasons are many and each carefully considered.  This is not a decision I have taken lightly but it is my decision, nonetheless. Importantly I have made this choice known to my family and they accept it (at least they are telling me that now!).

In reviewing the information provided to me by the University of Adelaide, School of Medicine I read, “Donating your body to science is one of the greatest gifts one can give to make a lasting contribution to the education and training of our current & future health professionals and to advance science through research.”  I am pragmatic, I am a free-thinker and I agree.

More here: Body Donation Program - Uni of Adelaide

A conversation I listened to between Richard Fidler and Dr Walter Wood also informed my decision and I truly believe it is the right one.  If you are interested, you can listen here: Walter Wood: dignifying body donation - ABC Conversations

So, if you care about your death as much as you do your life; and you feel strongly about your wishes being respected and honoured, then plan now and let your wishes be known.  Make your wishes legal.  There are many law firms and legal practitioners well placed to provide sound and cost-effective advice.  The cost to your family may be far greater if no plans are in place.

This blog does not constitute advice but rather I am sharing my personal opinion about the importance of estate planning.  I hope these words spark a conversation with your family or loved ones and that you consider seeking professional legal advice for your own peace of mind and that of your family. These conversations are better had without the pressures of a medical setting or when they are left a little too late to be had calmly and with less emotion.

In closing, if you have a preference to be cremated rather than buried or for a Beethoven, Mahler, Rachmaninov, or Sibelius symphony to be played at your funeral service make that known too.  Your loved ones may just choose for you and my guess is that it may not reflect your very personal preference.

For me it is roses...lots of yellow roses....and for my cremated remains to be returned to nature and the sea with a beautiful symphony upon the ether, at sunset; and in my sanctuary.

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