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Taking the elderly into account

Taking the elderly into account

By Faith Hawthorne is manager and principal lawyer, seniors law, Justice Connect, and Stephanie Tonkin is head of community programs, Justice Connect.

Practice & Procedure 


 

How to ensure older, lonely people age according to their wishes.

The new Guardianship and Administration Bill follows the recent trend of supported and substituted decision-making laws in Victoria that place at their centre the individual’s values and preferences (eg, power of attorney and end of life planning laws). The direction of reform is progressive, thoughtful and supported by many working with older people. That is, so long as we have a trusted family member or friend. If we’re isolated, lonely or just don’t have someone in our life we trust, the new laws can leave us out.

With 10 per cent of Victorians over 60 experiencing chronic loneliness, this is a problem.

We might end up in the public guardianship and administration system, through which a professional is appointed. Bringing in a trained, impartial person can be a useful, even essential, safeguard, as long as they can understand what’s important to us. Without a centralised place to record our values and preferences, even the most experienced guardian or administrator may find it difficult to understand our history and long-standing values, especially if we have diminishing capacity.

Maya’s (not her real name) daughter left her on the bench at the front of an aged care facility in NSW. After hours of her sitting there alone, the staff brought Maya inside. Her mental state meant she couldn’t explain who her family was. She entered the guardianship system and was taken into care. She remained at the NSW aged care facility for months, until her sister managed to contact her and have her transported to Victoria. Maya remained under the care of the public guardian in NSW, who refused to release her savings to buy essentials. She was also fed meals against her religious beliefs – she was Hindu, requiring a vegetarian diet.

With hundreds of hours of complex pro bono support from our partner firm, we helped Maya overturn the guardianship order. She is lucky to now have her sister supporting her.

Had she been able to record her wishes and family, Maya might have avoided the guardianship system altogether, and age according to her wishes.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care is uncovering stories about vulnerable older Australians being let down by our aged care system. Justice Connect will make a submission later this year calling for a central, digitised system for holding critical documents such as powers of attorney and statements outlining values and preferences in later life.

We should all have confidence that our values and preferences will be taken into account as we grow older, especially as supported and substituted decision making is often required when deeply personal decisions need to be made. n Faith Hawthorne is manager and principal lawyer, seniors law, Justice Connect, and Stephanie Tonkin is head of community programs, Justice Connect.

Looking to help?

To find pro bono opportunities for your firm see www.justiceconnect.org.au/get-involved, which also manages the LIV’s pro bono Legal Assistance Service.

For solicitors: talk to your pro bono coordinator or the person responsible for pro bono work at your firm or see www.fclc.org.au/cb_pages/careers and_getting_involved.php.

For barristers: see www.vicbar.com.au/social-justice/pro-bono.

How to ensure older, lonely people age according to their wishes.

The new Guardianship and Administration Bill follows the recent trend of supported and substituted decision-making laws in Victoria that place at their centre the individual’s values and preferences (eg, power of attorney and end of life planning laws). The direction of reform is progressive, thoughtful and supported by many working with older people. That is, so long as we have a trusted family member or friend. If we’re isolated, lonely or just don’t have someone in our life we trust, the new laws can leave us out.

With 10 per cent of Victorians over 60 experiencing chronic loneliness, this is a problem.

We might end up in the public guardianship and administration system, through which a professional is appointed. Bringing in a trained, impartial person can be a useful, even essential, safeguard, as long as they can understand what’s important to us. Without a centralised place to record our values and preferences, even the most experienced guardian or administrator may find it difficult to understand our history and long-standing values, especially if we have diminishing capacity.

Maya’s (not her real name) daughter left her on the bench at the front of an aged care facility in NSW. After hours of her sitting there alone, the staff brought Maya inside. Her mental state meant she couldn’t explain who her family was. She entered the guardianship system and was taken into care. She remained at the NSW aged care facility for months, until her sister managed to contact her and have her transported to Victoria. Maya remained under the care of the public guardian in NSW, who refused to release her savings to buy essentials. She was also fed meals against her religious beliefs – she was Hindu, requiring a vegetarian diet.

With hundreds of hours of complex pro bono support from our partner firm, we helped Maya overturn the guardianship order. She is lucky to now have her sister supporting her.

Had she been able to record her wishes and family, Maya might have avoided the guardianship system altogether, and age according to her wishes.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care is uncovering stories about vulnerable older Australians being let down by our aged care system. Justice Connect will make a submission later this year calling for a central, digitised system for holding critical documents such as powers of attorney and statements outlining values and preferences in later life.

We should all have confidence that our values and preferences will be taken into account as we grow older, especially as supported and substituted decision making is often required when deeply personal decisions need to be made. n Faith Hawthorne is manager and principal lawyer, seniors law, Justice Connect, and Stephanie Tonkin is head of community programs, Justice Connect.

Looking to help?

To find pro bono opportunities for your firm see www.justiceconnect.org.au/get-involved, which also manages the LIV’s pro bono Legal Assistance Service.

For solicitors: talk to your pro bono coordinator or the person responsible for pro bono work at your firm or see www.fclc.org.au/cb_pages/careers and_getting_involved.php.

For barristers: see www.vicbar.com.au/social-justice/pro-bono.

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