Estate planning: not just for the wealthy
By Robert Wright /December 01,2015/
Most people don’t like to think about estate planning. In fact according to studies, almost half of all Australians don’t have a legal will. Yet if you have some assets; such as your home or some nice furniture or collectibles you still need an estate plan, especially if any minor children are involved.
Contrary to popular belief, estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. Estate planning can help your family during a particularly difficult and emotional time. A well-structured estate plan will make things easier for your loved ones by making provisions for supporting your significant other and any other dependent, preserving assets for later generations, and protecting your family’s security and privacy. On the other hand, a poorly constructed estate plan—or no estate plan at all —may lead to a greater taxation obligation and increased costs. Without an estate plan you also run the risk of your assets being disposed of in ways you wouldn’t have necessarily chosen.
The truth is that estate planning is an important consideration for everyone. In short, estate planning encompasses the accumulation, preservation and distribution of an individual’s assets. Its main aim is to enhance and maintain the financial wellbeing of an individual and their respective family – whatever form the family unit may take – during the course of their lifetime and at the time of their passing. For this reason, estate planning ought to be addressed sooner rather than later. Life events, such as the birth of a child, engagement, wedding, or other form of commitment ceremony, are often ideal occasions to begin the process.
Regardless of where you are along life’s journey, or your particular financial circumstances, starting a conversation around estate planning today can help you prepare for unexpected events in the future. For example, estate planning can help you to:
- Identify and nominate who will take care of any minor children.
- Nominate who will manage your assets and financial affairs during your lifetime should you become unable to manage them yourself through illness, injury or physical/mental impairment.
- Ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes; to the right people, at the right time, and in the right form.
- Minimise the time, taxes and expense associated with settling your estate at the time of your passing.
- Provide details of the life-sustaining medical care you wish to receive (or not receive).
- Identify who will make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapable of making those decisions yourself.
The last thing any of us want is to have conflicts within the family. However the reality is that many of us simply fail to have adequate estate planning documents and structures in place. Should an unexpected illness or death of a family member occur, it can have serious ramifications at an already stressful time and lead to conflict and relationship breakdown.
A legal will is just one part of an effective estate plan. Other documents and legal structures that may be relevant (depending on your circumstances) include Powers of Attorney, Trusts, Superannuation Death Benefit Nomination, Appointment of Enduring Guardian, and an Advance Care Directive (also known as a living will).
A further consideration is your retirement savings held within the superannuation environment. The introduction of compulsory superannuation means that every Australian worker now has a significant asset in the form of their superannuation savings that sits outside the confines of their legal will (if they have one).
In almost all situations, these superannuation benefits are held in a trust that is controlled by a third party trustee. This means that these superannuation benefits do not form part of an individual’s estate and as such cannot be determined by the instructions in their will. Many superannuation funds also offer life insurance as a benefit to members, so it’s not just the accumulated retirement savings that are at stake, but possibly a substantial amount of money in life insurance if the member were to die prematurely or unexpectedly. This is where a Superannuation Death Benefit Nomination is essential.
Estate planning is a complex area that requires careful planning and the right advice from qualified professionals. As such, you should always consult with financial advisory and legal professionals who have expertise in estate planning. Effective estate planning can provide you with a great deal of comfort and peace of mind that comes from knowing that your affairs are in order and that the needs of your loved ones will be met long after you’re gone. To find out more, speak to your financial adviser.