Our litigation solicitors are often engaged in trying to solve problems after the event – a little like carefully picking through the wreckage after a car has gone over the cliff.
That is also why we have a team of passionately dedicated estate planners. Estate planning is all about creating structures to prevent the car from going over the cliff. It is about seeing problems in the future and putting in place a plan to avoid them for you and your family.
A Will is but a part of estate planning. It is a part of the plan to provide for people who are important to you. Why we have allowed Wills to be degraded in importance is beyond understanding. But, we have. There are very few people who enter the world of purchasing property without relying upon good legal or conveyancing advice. We rely upon the skill and care of solicitors or conveyancers to make sure the property we are purchasing is registered in our name and any problems attached to the property are either resolved or brought to our attention.
A Will is not about the purchase or sale of one property. It concerns and governs all of your assets. It is about the conveyance of your home, your investment property, your beach house, your investments, your shares, your business, your farm, and all of your personal property. And yet, we think that a Will is simple and have been told “No, that won’t cost much.”
“Well Joe, what do you want to do?” This is the typical question asked of the client when he or she presents themselves to make their Will. But, this is only the first stage of estate planning.
There needs to be a thorough investigation of what assets Joe actually owns and what assets he treats as his own but may be owned by another entity such as a company or family trust. There also needs to be a careful consideration of Joe’s personal history. You see, Joe’s been married before and has three children from that marriage. He now lives in a de facto relationship with Mary who also has two children from a former relationship.
“What’s that got to do with my Will? Nobody ever asked me about this before.”
Planning to achieve Joe’s estate planning objectives is going to be difficult. We’ve only scratched the surface with the issues raised so far.
“But surely you only ask these questions if the person is extremely wealthy.”
It is often more important that these questions are asked in modest estates than they are for people who have considerable wealth.
The impact of a mistake resulting in a large liability to the Australian Taxation Office or resulting in a protracted Court case will have more affect on a small estate than on a large one.
To help Joe avoid a wreckage, we would recommend he fully identify potential problems of the future, and put in place a plan to avoid them for him and his family.