Medical science might change the script one day but until that time, one thing we all know for certain is that eventually we are going to die. What else is certain, in most cases, is that most of us don’t know when this will happen. It could happen suddenly, in an accident, or you could pass away peacefully in your sleep age 92, which of course is what most of us hope for.
When you have a family, this knowledge brings with it some responsibility. Your loved ones – your spouse, your children, perhaps your stepchildren – are the ones who will inherit whatever you leave behind from your life when you die and carry out any of your other wishes, and so it’s best to be clear before you die about what your wishes are.
This is what estate planning deals with – a connected series of end-of-life decisions you make before you die in order to avoid any confusion or dispute among your loved ones once you pass on. These decisions could relate to how you want your property and belongings divided in your will, to who gets your superannuation entitlement, who has power to make decisions for you should you become physically and/or mentally incapacitated, and how you wish to be cared for in your final years.
What’s the best way to go about estate planning?
Because there are a lot of different issues around making decisions on what happens in your later years and after you die, speaking with one of our experienced legal professionals experienced in creating these legal documents and customising the process to meet your needs is strongly advised.
An important reason for talking to a lawyer who specialises in estate planning is because when people do it themselves, they often make documents which later prove – for different reasons – to be invalid and therefore unenforceable. This can create a situation of chaos for those you leave behind, and causing them potential of dishamony and costing them time and money to sort it all out.
Many law firms will offer an initial free consultation with an estate planning lawyer at which you can review your current situation in terms of finances, family relationships and health. This process will likely to lead to a suggestion of the documents you will need in order to make sure your last wishes are carried out after your death, such as:
- A simple or complex will;
- Enduring Power of Attorney;
- An advanced health directive;
- A superannuation Binding Death Benefit Nomination; or
- Testamentary Trusts.
What sort of questions do I need to ask?
There are many questions you should ask both yourself and an expert in estate planning. Some of them include:
- Who do I want to look after my estate? That is, who do you want to make the executor of your will, the person who will see to it that your wishes are carried out after your death?
- Who do I want to make gifts of my assets to? This will most likely be your surviving spouse and children but obviously the situation becomes more complicated if you’ve remarried, have stepchildren, or have no immediate surviving family.
- How do I intend to pay any outstanding debts when I die? This needs to be factored into your estate plan so you don’t leave a debt burden to your loved ones.
- What would happen if I was badly injured or otherwise unable to make important decisions on my personal affairs?
- Who do I want to look after my financial and health decisions if I am unable to? This is where you appoint an Enduring Power of Attorney and/or Enduring Power of Guardianship, delegating someone you trust to make decisions for you if you’ve lost this capacity.
- Do I need to make an Advanced Health Directive which will include details of objections to medical procedures, drug treatments and other instructions for my later life care?
I do not really have any assets so should I bother with estate planning?
Yes, because you will still have treasured items and mementoes you wish to pass on to certain family members. An estate plan takes away the uncertainty of who gets what once you’ve passed away, and ensures your wishes are carried out in the manner and time you want them to be.
Are there any other reasons estate planning is important?
One compelling reason to create a properly documented estate plan is because it will likely end up saving you, and those loved ones who survive you, in tax payments, legal fees and, possibly, court fees. If it is unclear what your intentions were for your assets before you died, it can start costing your beneficiaries money to sort out your affairs, in other words.
As mentioned above, another important reason is that none of us can foresee the future. Injury, disability and incapacity can occur suddenly and if it did, your family might be left in the difficult position of guessing what your wishes were in terms of care and inheritance, rather than knowing. A well-drafted estate plan can deal with these contingencies so your family know exactly what you wish to happen.
Consulting one of our experienced estate planning lawyers is a non-threatening process of discovery, in which we will ask you a series of questions to help you clarify the issues you would like addressed in the plan. It does not have to be complicated so make an appointment to discuss your estate plan today.