• Older person
  • NSW

What is this resource? 

This resource explains how planning for older age (or future planning) can help to prevent mistreatment and abuse and guides you through the steps you can take to plan for a safer older age in New South Wales. 

This resource is intended as a guide only and is not legal advice.

Why is it important to plan ahead? 

By planning ahead, you can make sure that the person or people you trust to make the right decisions for you have the legal power to do so if and when you need it. This might occur if you have an accident, become unwell or develop a cognitive impairment like dementia. 

In NSW, there are legal documents you can complete to appoint someone else to make decisions for you. You need to do this before you lose capacity to make decisions for yourself. 

What is capacity? 

Your capacity is your ability to understand the facts and choices involved in a decision, to weigh up the consequences of those choices, and to communicate your decision.   

If you lose capacity to make certain decisions and you have not legally appointed the person/s you want to make those decisions for you, a court or tribunal may appoint someone else to be your decision maker.  

This might mean that NSW Trustee & Guardian or someone you may not have chosen yourself will be appointed.  

Planning for the future can help you retain dignity, independence and control over your life in older age. It can also help to safeguard against mistreatment. 

Safeguarding against mistreatment

When an older person is mistreated, either intentionally or unintentionally, by someone they rely on, such as their partner, adult child, carer, or neighbour, this is known as elder abuse. Elder abuse can involve single or repeated acts that harm or distress an older person. It can also involve someone failing to act when the older person is relying on them.  

Sadly, more than one in six older people in Australia have experienced elder abuse, including psychological, financial, physical, sexual abuse and neglect. 

By planning ahead and appointing decision makers you trust, you can help to safeguard against being mistreated. You may wish to appoint a professional or NSW Trustee & Guardian to manage your finances or there may be people in your life whom you trust to understand your financial and other needs – the choice is yours.   

 Priya’s story

Priya* is a 73 year old woman living in a rental property and receiving the aged pension. She has three children. Her son, Samesh*, is unemployed and lives at home with Priya. He has access to his mother’s bank account and card and often uses her money to buy expensive things for himself without her permission. Sometimes this means that there is not enough money for essentials that Priya needs.  

Priya has often thought that if she loses capacity to make decisions about spending her money, she would trust her eldest child, Meera*, to make those decisions for her. Priya speaks daily with her other child, Viraj*, and knows that he understands what’s important to her. She knows she would want Viraj to make decisions about where she lives and her medical treatment if she cannot make them herself. Unfortunately, Priya doesn’t talk to any of her children about her preferences or approach a lawyer for help.   

Within a year, Priya starts to develop dementia. The dementia progresses very quickly and she soon loses her decision-making ability. An application is made to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have a financial manager and guardian appointed for her, with all three children arguing over who should be appointed. Given the disagreement between the children, the Tribunal appoints the NSW Trustee & Guardian to make Priya’s financial decisions and the Public Guardian to make decisions about her housing and medical treatment.  

For some, the appointment of neutral, public professionals is what they would choose for themselves. For Priya, however, this means that public officials, rather than her trusted children, Meera and Viraj, will make decisions on her behalf. 

*All names have been changed.

What’s involved with future planning? 

It is important to discuss what you want your future to be like with your chosen decision makers and others in your life. This helps those closest to you to support you in living the life you want rather than the life they may think is best for you.   

Future planning takes four steps:  

  • Thinking about what you want your older age to look like 
  • Talking to people you trust about what you want and asking for their help
  • Writing down what is important to you and detailing any specific decisions 
  • Formalising your decisions and who you want your decision-makers to be through legally binding documents. 

Thinking, talking about, and writing down your wishes 

Thinking about how best to manage some of the challenges of older age can be a difficult process. It can be even more difficult to discuss your wishes with family and friends.  

Justice Connect is developing a Conversation Guide to help you navigate the first three steps of future planning and prepare you for the process of formally appointing your decision-makers – watch this space!

Formalising your decisions in legally binding documents 

In NSW, you can formalise your decisions and appoint your chosen decision-makers for two different types of future planning decisions:  

  • Financial and legal decisions
  • Lifestyle and medical decisions 

When you formalise your decisions in legally binding documents, you can appoint the same person for all types of decisions or different people for different decisions. For example, there may be people in your life who are good at managing money and others who understand your medical and lifestyle preferences. 

Visit Compass for information about other states and territories.

Financial and legal decisions 

An Attorney is a person (or people) you choose to make financial decisions for you, including:   

  • day-to-day financial decisions (such as paying bills and other expenses)
  • legal decisions (such as making investments and selling or buying property). 

To make sure that your Attorney/s can make decisions for you after you lose capacity, you must complete an Enduring Power of Attorney form.  

To learn more about Powers of Attorney in NSW and how to appoint your Attorney, take a look at our Understanding Powers of Attorney in NSW resource.

Lifestyle and medical decisions 

A Guardian is a person (or people) you choose to make decisions about: 

  • where you live
  • what health care you receive
  • what other kinds of personal services you receive
  • consenting to the carrying out of medical or dental treatment. 

A Guardian can only start to make decisions for you if you lose capacity to make them yourself. 

To learn more about Enduring Guardianship in NSW and how to appoint your Guardian, take a look at our Understanding Enduring Guardianship in NSW resource. 

To assist your Guardian to understand your preferences and what’s important to you, you can complete an Advanced Care Directive. For more information and a form you can use to make your directive, take a look at this Advanced Care Directive Information Booklet prepared by NSW Health.

What about planning for after you die? 

Through our work at Justice Connect, we have seen cases of older people being abused, neglected or exploited by people who are interested in what happens to the older person’s money when they die.   

Most people record their wishes for what happens to their money after they die in a formal legal document called a will.  

A will is another important tool that can help safeguard against abuse by making it clear what you would like to happen after your life ends. 

To learn more about wills, as well as superannuation benefits after death, funeral and burial instructions, take a look at our Wills, superannuation nomination, funeral and burial instructions resource.

  Amir’s story

Amir* was a 79 year old man with brain cancer. He lived in a home that he owned and had three adult sons. As he became sicker, his eldest son became increasingly interested in his father’s finances and insisted that, as the oldest son, he should inherit the house. Amir started to feel pressured by his eldest son.  

As his cancer progressed, Amir became concerned that his capacity to make decisions was starting to deteriorate. He wanted to make it clear to his sons what would happen to his house at the end of his life.  

Amir contacted a lawyer to help him prepare a will before his condition worsened and he lost the capacity to make decisions. His will specified that each of his sons would inherit an equal share of his house at the end of his life. He also asked the lawyer to prepare a power of attorney document to appoint his brother Hassan* as his attorney. 

After putting these arrangements in place, Amir talked to his eldest son about what he had done. Although his eldest son was not happy, Amir felt much better because he had recorded his wishes, and he trusted his brother Hassan to make good decisions about managing his money should he lose capacity during his lifetime. 

*All names have been changed.

Where can I get help?

If you are concerned that an older person is at risk of, or may be experiencing abuse in their family, home or community contact the NSW Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline on 1800 628 221 (M-F 9am – 5pm). You can get free information, support or you can make a report. Anyone can call and you can be anonymous.  

Seniors Rights Service offers free legal advice on many legal issues to older people in NSW, as well as a comprehensive referral service and online information. You can call Seniors Rights Service on 1800 424 079

NSW Trustee & Guardian can make your Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship appointments as well as your will. These services are free if you receive the full age pension. You can call NSW Trustee & Guardian on 1300 109 290

More self-help resources

  This resource was last updated on 9 January 2024. This is legal information only and does not constitute legal advice. You should always contact a lawyer for advice specific to your situation. Please view our disclaimer for more information.

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