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Friday, February 10, 2012

There’s Wills, and then there’s Wills….

Last year we hosted a free information session and it was the most captivated we've ever seen an audience. The topic was Wills & Estate Planning, and the presenter was a solicitor!!

Soooooooo, I figured there must be something in it and decided to run another session this month. I just went and had a look at the register to discover that this session has now booked out in less than a week.

What the?! Seriously guys, the speaker is a solicitor.

Of course I’m joking, because I was just as enthralled as everyone else last year when Mal gave us real life examples of how easily estate planning can go really wrong, and the dangers of Will Kits and executor trustee companies.

Clearly people are interested in getting their estate planning right, but it can be hard to know where to start. In my opinion, there are 4 main groups of people that need to take particular care when preparing their Wills and Powers of Attorney:

Blended families - Not surprisingly, this can be a veritable minefield and one where I have personal experience. Much care needs to be taken to protect the surviving spouse and children, children from previous relationships, and the estate itself. This is also an area where a challenge to the Will is more likely.

Mal has told me a few times now about a woman he knew whose stepchildren legally evicted her from her home because of her husband's poorly worded Will. Obviously a worst case scenario, but it did happen and neither she nor her husband would ever have meant for that to happen.

Parents with young children - Most people don’t realise that appointing a guardian to their minor children in a Will is not legally binding. It still needs to go through the Supreme Court.

And you need to consider what happens with the proceeds of your estate if have young children? Are Testamentary trusts in place to deal with this? Do you have a plan for the guardians to be able to afford to raise your children?

Elderly - One of the messier situations I see time and again is where elderly parents don’t appoint Powers of Attorney while they can. Most people know about Financial and Medical attorneys, but a lot of people aren’t aware of the importance of appointing an enduring Guardian for lifestyle decisions – particularly relevant for aged care accommodation.

Couples - Regardless of the age of your children if you die without a Will, your estate does not automatically go to the surviving spouse. Under Victorian law, if you have children and an estate worth more than $100,000 (which is most people with a house and a chunk paid off their mortgage) then the surviving spouse receives chattels + $100,000 + 1/3 of the estate balance. The remaining 2/3 of the balance is split between any children – regardless of how much it is!

Singles Having a Will in place may not seem important, but you leave your family to deal with unnecessary red tape without one. Oh and Powers of Attorney are an absolute must!!

Hmmmmmmmm, my four categories pretty much cover everyone, which suggests that careful estate planning is particularly relevant for everyone. A few years back John wrote a great paper called “What happens when you die…?” It’s the story of a couple who made a number of simple mistakes and made a dog’s breakfast of their children’s inheritance. Click here for a light look at a pretty serious topic.

Talk soon,