While Australia’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was among the best in the world, the speed and spread of the illness underlined just how fragile life can be.
It was also a solemn reminder of the importance of ensuring your affairs are in order, so your wishes are met – in life and death.
The centrepiece of any estate planning is your Will, which sets out who you would like to receive your assets when you die, and how they are to be distributed. But you also need to consider what will happen to your superannuation as well as who will act on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions about your finances, health or wellbeing.
Expressing your Will
Despite the importance of a Will, it’s estimated that nearly half of Australians don’t have one.i If you die intestate (without a Will), your assets will be distributed according to a legal formula within each State, which may not be in line with your wishes. In an era where complex family situations and blended families are common, this can create unnecessary conflict at what is already a difficult time.
Even if you have a Will, it’s not a set-and-forget document. You must make sure it is up to date and reflects major changes in your life, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or the purchase of a home.
Super is not part of your Will
It is not widely understood that superannuation is not covered by your Will unless you specifically direct it to be by nominating a legal personal representative (LPR) as your beneficiary.
Unless you nominate a valid beneficiary, the fund’s trustees will determine who receives your super. Even if you don’t have much money in super yet, chances are you have life insurance with your super which is paid out to your beneficiaries on your death.
To be valid, a beneficiary must be your LPR or a dependent, defined under super legislation as your spouse, child, someone in an interdependency relationship with you or a financial dependent. If you don’t nominate anyone, or your nomination is not valid, generally the money will go to your dependants or your LPR – but it’s always good to make sure.
The best way to ensure your super and any insurance payout ends up with the people you want to receive it is to make a binding death benefit nomination. There may be a small charge and you need to renew it every three years to remain valid. A non-binding nomination is only a guide so the trustees can overrule your nomination.
It is also worth remembering that if your beneficiaries are adult children, there may be tax implications for them.
Estate planning isn’t just about planning who gets what when you are gone. You should also consider putting in place directives to let your family and others know how you want to see out your days.
An enduring power of attorney will allow you to nominate somebody to act on your behalf if you are no longer capable of conducting your own financial matters. A general power of attorney is not sufficient as it is usually for a set period and becomes invalid once you can no longer make your own decisions.
You should also organise enduring guardianship to appoint somebody to take control of any lifestyle or medical issues should you become incapacitated. And it is worthwhile introducing an advance care directive which states exactly what medical treatment you do and don’t want to receive towards the end of your life.
Spread the word
Once you have prepared an estate plan, it’s a good idea to gather all your documentation in one place and tell your family and legal representative where they are. Also, consider giving someone you trust your online passwords to avoid complications down the track.
Getting your affairs in order can provide great peace of mind for you and your family, now and in the future and we are here to assist.