Estate planning is one of those jobs which too many of us put off and studies show that millions of adult Australians don’t have a valid Will. If you pass away without a valid Will your assets will be distributed in accordance with a set of predetermined legal rules.
Yes, estate planning can be confronting, and Australian’s are notoriously bad when it comes to discussing death and dying. However, you spend your whole life building your wealth so is it not better to proactively make decisions so your assets are not just distributed in accordance with some rules made by legal boffins?
In my experience there are a few common questions which cause clients to shift uncomfortably in their seats, sweat a little and avoid eye contact but they are critical considerations in any estate plan.
- Blended families – With majority of Australian marriages ending in divorce, ‘blended’ families are more common than not. However, blended families can create a minefield in the estate planning world, especially in situations where there are children from different relationships. If you are in a relationship and have children from a prior relationship, it is critical that you seek specialised advice when preparing your estate plan to understand how your personal circumstances may affect your wishes.
- Minor children – Who would you like to raise your children in the event you and your partner were not around? Given the immense responsibility involved, this question involves serious consideration. A few things to think about when considering who you’d like to nominate as the guardian of your minor children include the age of your children and the person (or people) you’d like to nominate and the personal, financial, employment, health and living situation of the nominated person or people. For example, while grandparents might seem like the obvious choice, if a child is only young, remember that the guardianship appointment would need to continue until the child turns 18, so have a think about how old the grandparents may be when the child turns 18 as they may not be the most appropriate choice. It is also important to remember that even though you can nominate a guardian for your minor children, the Family Court has the final say on matters regarding guardianship of minors.
- The ‘catastrophe’ clause – What would you like to happen to your assets if everyone in your immediate family died? Many people, especially those with young children, find this question very confronting as they have not contemplated a situation whereby their whole family unit would pass away at the same time. While such a catastrophic event is unlikely, it is important to make provisions in your estate plan to cover such a scenario to ensure that your assets would still be distributed in accordance with your wishes. In particular, parents with young families, where they are often travelling together, should consider making such provisions.
- Your body – How would you like your body to be disposed of when you pass away? Some people have quite strong opinions on concepts such as organ and medical research donation. While you can register your wishes with the relevant organisations, it is imperative that you have these conversations with your family as in many cases they will have the final say.
- Memorial – If you have a particular wish as to whether you’d like to be buried or cremated or where you’d like your ashes scattered, these can be included in your estate plan. However, they will be included as a wish only so it’s important that you discuss your wishes with your family. Remember, estate planning documents aren’t often read until after a funeral or memorial service so make sure you make your wishes known.
- Personal relationships – Have you mentioned all your significant relationships? Life can be complicated, but in order to prepare a fulsome estate plan, your solicitor needs to know about all of your significant relationships – even the ones it might be uncomfortable talking about such as that estranged child or spouse or that intimate relationship your family does not know about. There may be legal obligations that come with these relationships and your solicitor can’t educate you about the rights of possible beneficiaries unless they have the full picture. It is therefore critical that you disclose all of these relationships. If you don’t, they will undoubtedly ‘pop-up’, if not at your funeral, at some time in the future and at potentially great emotional and financial cost to your surviving family.
- Pets – For many (oneself included) their ‘fur babies’ are an important part of their family. If your home is a menagerie or if you own big animals, animals which have a long life expectancy or animals which are expensive or time consuming to look after, having a plan for how your animals will be maintained and cared for in the event they outlive you is an important consideration.
- Legal and financial decision making – while you’re still alive – Do you want to appoint someone to manage and make financial and legal decisions for you while you’re still alive? This is an important consideration in any estate plan as it can ensure that your finances can still be managed, even when, for example you can’t manage them yourself or require some help.
- Health and lifestyle decisions – Who would you like to make health and lifestyle decisions for you in the event you cannot make them for yourself? For many the answer to this question is easy, my partner. But what if your partner is unable to make decisions because they themselves were incapacitated or there are complicated family dynamics between partners and children (especially in cases of blended families). These issues are important considerations as part of any estate plan. You can also make particular directives regarding life support and what sort of care you’d like to receive.
Estate planning is an important task that every adult should make time for. A considered estate plan not only gives you piece of mind that you are organised and have made important decisions about your future, but importantly it makes things considerably easier for your family when the inevitable happens and can help limit the possibility of arguments between relatives during what is already a difficult time emotionally. Ready to take the first step and discuss your estate plan? Contact us today – we make the estate planning process easy by offering fixed pricing and flexible consultations.