Planning for Major Surgery – A Must-Have Checklist

01 December 2017

Preparing for major surgery can be incredibly stressful. With any surgery there are always risks, but there are also other ‘what-ifs’ that can cause concern.

However with a little forward thinking and planning your can take some of the stress out of this time. Here our essential planning tips to prepare you for surgery including what legal documents you need to have in order.

  1. Have an up-to-date Will

While no one likes to think about the worst-case scenario when it comes to surgery, having an up-to-date Will in place can provide some level of comfort. Some studies have shown that that nearly one in two Australians don’t have a valid Will.

If you die without leaving a Will you are said to die intestateso there is no formal evidence of who you wanted as your beneficiaries and who you wanted as your Executor. In this case your estate would be distributed according to a pre-determined formula with certain family members receiving a defined percentage of your assets despite what you may have wished.

If you don’t already have a Will you should consult a Wills and Estate Lawyer now to develop one.

For those people who already have a Will it’s important to check that it’s up-to-date. A lot of things can happen in just a few years, such as changes in relationships, births and alterations to assets. These need to be taken into account in your Will.

You will also want to check that you are still happy with the executor and beneficiaries you have chosen. Discuss your Will with loved ones prior to surgery so everyone is clear on your wishes. 

  1. Identify any guardians

If you have a child or another person in your care you should appoint a person or persons to act as a guardian. This can help to avoid uncertainty or family disputes about who is responsible for the dependent and ensure your care wishes for the person are upheld.

  1. Formalise decision-making about your care

If for any reason you could become mentally incapacitated, or are unable to make your own health decisions, whether it is short or long-term, you should prepare an Enduring Power of Attorney and an Advance Health Directive. An Enduring Power of Attorney can be used to appoint someone to make health care decisions on your behalf, and an Advance Health Directive can specify care instructions in certain circumstances.

In Queensland, an Advance Health Directive (AHD) (or living Will) is a formal way to give instructions about your future health care. It comes into effect only if your cognitive health deteriorates and you become unable to make your own decisions. An Advanced Health Directive can include specific details and information that health professionals should know including health conditions, allergies, and religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that could affect your care.

You can give specific instructions about certain medical treatments, such as whether you want to receive life-sustaining measures such as tube feeding or resuscitation.

  1. Appoint a General Power of Attorney

A General Power of Attorney appoints a person to make financial and property decisions on your behalf if you are ‘out of action’ for some time.

Sole operators of businesses especially should consider one to ensure the business is looked after from a legal sense.

A General Power of Attorney ceases to have effect after you lose the mental capacity to make financial decisions, whereas an Enduring Power of Attorney will continue to have effect regardless of your mental capacity.

  1. Have your insurance in order

If you have private health insurance you will want to check that everything is in order. Check what refunds you may be entitled to and what your excess amounts are. You will also want to check any life insurance policies you have in place, including those attached to your superannuation.

It’s important to understand that superannuation benefits are not considered part of an overall estate so you may need a Binding Death Benefit Nomination to ensure your nominated beneficiary receives the benefits you intended. A Binding Death Benefit Nomination is a written direction to the Trustee of your superannuation fund that sets out who you want to receive your benefit in the event of your death.

This is particularly important if there could be any potential challenges or conflict between your estate and superannuation beneficiaries.

  1. Pre-Surgery Prep

Of course there are non-legal preparations you will need to undertake to get ready for surgery. General Surgeons Australia (GSA) provides a pre-surgery list of some key things to consider. These include (though you should seek specific advice from your doctor and/or surgeon):

  • Shower and hygienic preparation
  • Fasting periods
  • Consumption of alcohol, supplements and medication leading up to surgery
  • Restrictions on smoking
  • Appropriate clothing and belongings to bring to hospital.

What next?

You should seek advice from a suitably qualified legal professional to assist you in your Will and estate planning. For all other aspects relating to your surgery you should consult your GP and surgeon.