Glossary of Terms

We’ll add to this Glossary of Death and Dying Terms over the next few months, but this and the resource list below will be a good start in coming to understand a world of new terms you’re likely to hear.

ADVANCE CARE DIRECTIVE: (also known as a Living Will) a document in which a person, when they have full capacity (see below) outlines their preferred healthcare steps should be taken in certain circumstances. It only comes into play when a person does not have the capacity to make, communicate or advocate their health/medical decisions. A ‘person responsible’ is nominated in the document to do express your wishes when you can’t.

ADVANCE CARE PLAN: The health care choices you make given your existing and potential health issues into the future. This is the first step in writing an Advance Care Directive.

ASSISTED DYING: Also known as physician-assisted suicide, occurs where a person requests a doctor to assist them in committing suicide, for example, a doctor provides a person with a prescription to obtain a lethal dose of drugs. It is legal only in the state of Victoria at the time of writing. You can gain more clarity re terminology here.

BEQUEATH: leave (property) to a person or other beneficiary by a will.

BINDING DEATH BENEFIT NOMINATION: A legally binding nomination that allows you to advise the trustee (Superannuation fund) who is to receive your superannuation benefit in the event of your death.

CAPACITY: Refers to being

  • able to freely and voluntarily make decisions about a matter;

  • able to understand and foresee the effects of any decision you make;

  • able to communicate these decisions to others;

  • and in South Australia: able to remember these decisions for a short while.

As long as you have capacity, you will be able to accept or reject specific health and wellbeing treatments. When you are deemed to have lost capacity, someone else will make those decisions for you.

DONATION (BODY): If you apply to a university to donate your body, it could be used for anatomical teaching, medical and scientific research and specialist training including medical, dental, science, physiotherapy and nursing students.

DONATION (ORGAN): The donation of an organ of the human body, from a living or dead person to a living recipient in need of a transplantation for health purposes.

DONATION (TISSUE): Sometimes donors will donate eyes or tissue and not organs; others will donate all three. This might happen because, although a donor wished to donate their organs as well as their eyes and tissue, the organs aren’t suitable for donation.

EMOTIONAL WILL: a document where you leave messages, favourite poems, photos and other mementos to your loved ones as a way of saying goodbye. Its contents are not legally-binding and shouldn’t replace your Last Will & Testament.

END-OF-LIFE CARE: End-of-life care is the term used to describe care that is provided during the period when death is imminent, and life expectancy is limited to a short number of hours or days. The term has been used to describe the last 12 months of life.

ENDURING GUARDIAN: When you appoint someone to act on your behalf in deciding what health and wellbeing actions are to be taken in the long term, when you no longer have the capacity to do so.

ENDURING POWER OF ATTORNEY: When you appoint someone to act on your behalf in your financial dealings long term, usually when you have lost ‘capacity’ to make financial decisions.

FUNERAL BONDS: Sometimes called funeral investments. These are managed investments that earn interest, but have the following specific features:

  • the interest must be added to the capital

  • the capital and interest is only realised on death when it is paid to the estate or to the funeral director to cover funeral expenses, and

  • your money is invested in an independently managed funeral fund


FUNERAL INSURANCE: Like other types of insurance, you pay monthly or fortnightly premiums (ongoing payments) for a fixed amount of cover. Usually you can choose between $5,000 to $15,000 cover which will be paid to your beneficiary when you die.

FUNERALS (PREPAID): Where you have arranged and purchased your funeral in advance. The type and style of funeral you want is set out in a contract and paid for at an agreed price. You can pay this directly to the funeral director, who will invest the funds in a funeral trust, or you can purchase a funeral bond and assign the benefit to the funeral director.

HOSPICE: a place or an organisation that provides care for people who are dying.

PALLIATION: to relieve, lessen, provide comfort without curing.

PALLIATIVE CARE: Palliative care occurs in a hospital, hospice or at home. A palliative care team is a group of professionals and experienced volunteers who relieve the symptoms and suffering of a person with a terminal illness.

PERSON RESPONSIBLE: A person over the age of 18 whom you trust to advocate your health and wellbeing wishes in your Advance Care Directive. They can be your Enduring Guardian, spouse, de facto spouse or same-sex partner, an unpaid carer, a close friend or relative or combination of these. They must agree to be your person responsible and sign the Advance Care Directive in front of a witness.

POWER OF ATTORNEY: When you appoint someone to act on your behalf in your financial dealings for a certain period of time – e.g. if you were going overseas.

PROBATE: The process of proving and registering in the Supreme Court the last Will of a deceased person.

Great resources:

Caresearch End-of-Life Essentials

The Australian Government’s Cancer Australia web site provides a complex list of terms including medical terms you may hear from your medical team.

Tasmanian Government’s Glossary of Terms

Probate Lawyers’ Glossary of Common Probate words and terms