Wills & Estates

Estate Planning is much more than just a Will, as there are a number of assets which you may not have personal control over but can influence the distribution.  It is therefore essential to consider various aspects of your life, financial and personal circumstances when planning estate documents.

Making a valid Will

A valid Will determines who should benefit from your estate when you die and who will be responsible for managing it – those chosen as your executors / trustees. A Will can be simple or complex and can also appoint guardians for minor children and provide directions for funeral arrangements.

Testamentary trust

A testamentary trust is a more complex Will that creates a trust or trusts after the testator dies. The trust assists in safeguarding assets from third-party creditors, protects at-risk beneficiaries and provides potential tax advantages.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney appoints a trusted family member or friend to look after your legal and financial affairs should you be unable to do so yourself. The power of attorney can specify the extent of powers an attorney is authorised to exercise. It can operate for a limited time, such as while you are travelling overseas, for a one-off transaction or take effect indefinitely from:

  • the present time;
  • the time you lose mental capacity; or
  • at a specified date

Appointment of Enduring Guardian

An appointment of enduring guardian appoints a person to make lifestyle, health and medical decisions on your behalf if you lack capacity to make those decisions yourself. A guardian acts as a substitute decision-maker and may consent to medical and dental treatment and living arrangements. The appointment also authorises health care professionals to share your personal information with your guardian.  This can now be included in the Enduring Power of Attorney referred to above.

Probate

Probate is an Order by a Court that makes the Will of a deceased person official and authorises the Executor (Manager of the Estate) to deal with the assets Estate. The Executor is responsible to pay estate liabilities, distribute gifts, sell and transfer property, arrange estate returns and generally finalise the estate in accordance with the Will.

There is no legal requirement to obtain probate which may not be necessary for small Estates or where property was held jointly with a sole beneficiary. In such cases, the deceased’s share of jointly held property can be transferred to the surviving owner by completing the required documents with the relevant authority or institution.

Dying intestate

Dying without a Will is referred to as dying intestate. In such cases the deceased person’s estate is distributed in accordance with a statutory formula. The rules of intestacy provide for a specific order of distribution to the deceased person’s next of kin designed to reflect society’s expectations as to who should benefit from the estate. However, they may not consider the real wishes of the deceased nor his or her unique circumstances. This can result in undesired consequences such as:

  • family members or friends missing out from an inheritance;
  • a disproportionate distribution of assets between family members or leaving out more needy beneficiaries;
  • a distribution to a family member with whom the deceased shared no significant or meaningful relationship.

There is an old saying that “When there is no Will, there is an abundance of relatives”.

Letters of Administration

An application for Letters of Administration is made by a major beneficiary when a person dies intestate (without a Will) or the Executors named in a valid Will are no longer alive or are unable to fulfil their role.

A grant of Letters of Administration will appoint the applicant as administrator of the estate, allowing him or her to deal with the estate assets and liabilities in the same manner as an executor.

Dealing with a deceased estate can be distressing and often involves complex issues at a time of grief and loss. Executors and administrators may need to liaise with a range of stakeholders to ensure the terms of the Will are upheld.

If you need any assistance contact one of our lawyers at sjl@sjl.com.au or call 03 9613 6555 for a no-obligation discussion and for expert legal advice.