While we all hope we will be here for a long time (and a good time!), have you ever thought about the future and what happens if you’re not in it? Not the teary, emotional, standing by my coffin stuff - we don’t want to dwell on that - but the practical side of things? Who will be there to look after the kids? Who will drive them to school? Where will they all live? How will they be financially supported? What will happen to the house? Who will run your business, or wind it up?
These important questions shouldn’t be left weighing on your mind. An experienced estate planning lawyer can put things into perspective and help you put strategies in place to give you peace of mind.
What is estate planning?
Estate planning is more than just making a Will. It is process of planning for your family’s future and setting up structures to provide stability for your loved ones if you’re no longer here.
A lawyer experienced in estate planning will talk to you about your family circumstances and prepare a Will that will be easy for your loved ones to administer. They will look at what assets you own and discuss the best way to ensure these assets pass to your beneficiaries without dispute or unnecessary cost. They will advise you about your superannuation death benefits and life insurance and how to pass these on to your beneficiaries tax effectively.
Another part of the estate planning process is considering what happens if you become incapacitated or need assistance managing your affairs. For example, in NSW an Enduring Power of Attorney and Appointment of Enduring Guardian give someone you trust the ability to make decisions for you. These documents should be prepared and witnessed by an experienced estate planning lawyer.
Very often people put these things into the “too hard basket”. Let me answer a few common questions people have when thinking about estate planning.
I’m so busy and can’t bring myself to think about all this. What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t have a Will?
If you die without a valid Will there is legislation in place that determines who gets what. It might be that your spouse and kids get it all in the end but administering an intestate estate is a long and expensive process.
Making a Will, even a simple Will, which nominates an executor and sets out your wishes in relation to your estate will take so much pressure off your loved ones at an already difficult time.
I’ve got a Will that I made years ago (before I was married/had kids/started the business), do I need to change it?
If you have married, separated or divorced then you need to update your Will. If your circumstances or your beneficiary’s circumstances have changed, then you need to update your Will. If you’ve had children then you’ll want to make specific provision for their care and maintenance, and so…you will need to update your Will.
I know we need to sort this out, but I just don’t know where to start?
Find a lawyer, accountant or financial advisor experienced in estate planning to help you. These professionals often work together to advise on an estate plan that is bullet proof and tax effective in your circumstances. Ask your family and friends for recommendations. Stay away from Do It Yourself and online Will kits – there is no substitute for proper legal advice when it comes to these important documents.
Even before asking what your wishes are, an experienced estate planning lawyer will investigate your family circumstances and asset structures. Things like:
I have been specialising estate planning for over a decade and I know it can be a daunting process for many people. Nobody wants to think about the future without us in it. However, I have also seen the emotional and financial cost of not having proper estate planning in place. There is no better peace of mind then knowing you have done your best to plan for your family’s future.