Estate Planning Guide
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is more than just preparing a will.
Proper estate planning is not just a matter of having a will. For the same reason that you may wish to maximise your assets over your lifetime, it is important to ensure that in the event of your death or loss of capacity, both you and your family are provided for in the most effective way.
A well-arranged and executed estate plan ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, rather than this being determined by the state. It also provides a mechanism for your chosen person to step in and make important lifestyle and financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself.
Before undertaking estate planning you should consult your financial adviser. Working with your adviser and accredited specialist estate planner can help ensure your assets are distributed as per your wishes in a tax effective manner.
Common Estate Planning Documents
A will – this is a legal document that clearly sets out your directions and wishes for the distribution of your assets, payment of debts, and appointment of important roles after your death. This may include complex structures such as testamentary trusts. Having a clear, legally valid and up-to-date will is the best way to help ensure that your assets are protected and distributed according to your wishes.
A power of attorney – this ensures that the right person is appointed to make financial decisions for you in the event that you lose capacity. Failure to have a power of attorney can mean that the state decides who will manage your finances if you lose capacity.
An appointment of enduring guardian – this ensures that the right person is appointed to make lifestyle and healthcare decisions for you in the event that you lose capacity. Even people who have powers of attorney often do not have appointments of enduring guardian in place, even though lifestyle and healthcare decisions can be just as important.
A recent study by the comparison website finder.com.au found that 52% of Australian adults don’t have a will. Unfortunately, people can and do pass away unexpectedly and failing to have a will means significantly more uncertainty and stress on the person’s family. It also means that the person’s estate will be dealt with according to specific legislation, rather than the person’s wishes. In some cases, this can even mean that the person’s estate passes to the government. Having a will is vital to protect your loved ones and ensure your wishes are met.
Advantages of Estate Planning
The advantages of obtaining advice from an estate planning specialist are too numerous to list in their entirety. However, the advantages can include:
Estate Planning Checklist
The list below outlines some key estate planning areas and considerations to discuss with your financial adviser, solicitor and/or registered tax agent.
If you answer no to any of the above it is important you discuss with your financial adviser, solicitor and/or registered tax agent to ensure that your plans are consistent with your personal needs and circumstances.
When Should You Update Your Will?
Your will should be reviewed frequently and updated when necessary around significant changes in your life. It is important that your will remains relevant and suits your circumstances.
Events that could trigger a review of your will include:
Who Should You See for Estate Planning Services?
See an Accredited Estate Planning Specialist
In the past, many people have believed their wishes, when they pass, could be adequately covered by a standard will or by using a do it yourself will kit. This has caused a huge number of problems for the loved ones left behind, as poorly worded wills can leave estates vulnerable and family and loved ones left substantially worse off. Poorly formulated wills can lead to:
The costs for these issues can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
What qualifications to look for
While many solicitors hold themselves out as being able to prepare wills, very few truly specialise in estate planning or provide a service that adequately provides all of the above advantages. Although not the only indicator of quality, membership of organisations such as the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), and the Accredited Specialist (Wills & Estates) designation by the Law Society of New South Wales can demonstrate particular expertise in the area of estate planning.
Considerations for Preparing a Will
Below is a list of things you need to consider when drafting your will with an accredited specialist:
To find out more about Wills and how they fit into your broader estate planning, we recommend you speak to your financial adviser and a suitably experienced solicitor.
The Implications of Different Types of Assets
To properly formulate a will it is beneficial to understand the implications of the different types of assets in your estate, the way different assets are treated and the options you have with each asset class. Ensuring your assets go to the people you want after you pass way is not always as straightforward as writing it in your will.
How your estate is distributed depends on:
Estate or Non-Estate Assets
Assets you own individually are either classified as estate or non-estate assets.
Estate assets are automatically part of your estate when you pass away. This means they will be dealt with according to your wishes in your will.
Non-estate assets do not automatically form part of your estate when you pass away. It is vital that you understand the implications of non-estate assets when writing your will so you can make arrangements to ensure these assets are passed on as per your wishes.
Your financial adviser, together with your taxation and legal professionals, can help you assess the estate planning implications for each asset and investment you own and assist you to make suitable arrangements. They can also help you in ensuring that any future investments you make are structured in a way that is consistent with your estate planning preferences and objectives.
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