Step by step: Getting started with estate planning

There are some steps you can take before engaging a financial planner or estate lawyer to make the estate planning process faster (and cheaper).

Jul 08, 2024, updated Jul 08, 2024
It might sound daunting but setting out what happens to your assets when you die doesn't have to be complicated. Photo: Getty

It might sound daunting but setting out what happens to your assets when you die doesn't have to be complicated. Photo: Getty

It is estimated that as many as half of Australians are dying without a legally binding will, risking their assets being tied up in an expensive legal system for potentially years after they’re gone.

In some ways it’s unsurprising. Estate planning can be complex and thinking about your own demise is a grim task at the best of times, but it’s ultimately something everyone needs to do.

Luckily, there are some ways to get a head start and make the process simpler, whether you’re just looking to write a will or have more complex affairs like a family trust or small business.

Either way, when it comes to planning your estate you’re best off getting independent legal advice about how to best structure your assets and how to apportion it all among family.

But there are some steps you can take before engaging a financial planner or estate lawyer to make the process faster (and cheaper), according to several experts who work in the field.

Asset planning

Emma Blay, a senior associate at Barry Nilsson Lawyers, said any estate planning process started with asking yourself a few simple questions.

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These include what would happen to your assets if you died or lost capacity tomorrow, and who your beneficiaries might be, as well as who you might want to be the executor of your estate.

Also consider what you might want to happen with your body, including wishes about organ donation, burial or cremation.

“We get the most out of our meetings when the clients have already thought about these issues,” Blay said.

The next step was identifying all of the assets you have that could be passed on to family, Tiyce & Lawyers principal Michael Tiyce said.

This could include property, super, any other savings and any capital you own.

“You need legal advice and it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can very often be incredibly straightforward,” Tiyce said.

“A one-page document is really all most of us need … (although) sometimes there are complicating factors.”

Blay said that you’re also going to want to collect financial statements and other documents before meeting a lawyer, to avoid the process taking longer and costing more.

That includes rate notices for properties, trust deeds, super statements, life insurance documents, company constitutions, business succession agreements and super nominations.

“We want to make sure they understand how it all works,” Blay said.

Family matters

The next step in getting started with estate planning is really thinking about who your assets might be passed onto and how.

For some Australians this can be relatively simple.

But, as Blay said, family matters can be quite complex, particularly if you’ve had multiple marriages or children with different partners.

“We live in an age where the makeup of the family is not what it used to be,” Blay said.

“We have a lot of blended families, couples who have children from previous relationships.”

There are no shortage of pitfalls in this part of the process, particularly because everyone’s situation is quite different and, across the country, laws vary about how estates must provide for dependents such as children.

Tiyce said a good lawyer should be able to walk you through the process. But it also helps to have a general idea about who you want to receive certain parts of your estate.

That includes anyone you might want to exclude from your will, because you’ll ultimately need to provide reasons in writing for the decision to help avoid any legal challenges down the line.

“If you’re trying to cut out a child, even an adult child, you really need to have good reasons and really good advice,” Tiyce said.

This article originally appeared in our sister site The New Daily.

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