Planning your estate is so very important to ensure that whatever rightfully belongs to you or a loved one is passed to your/their legal or desired heirs or those trusted to take care of the assets (and any related debts). At the same time, estate planning is also vital to protect assets and property from avoidable taxes that may be levied upon death. Yes, death is a topic that most people are uncomfortable talking about. But since it is an inevitable outcome in every person’s life, it is important to take care of estate matters whilst we are alive so that our families and loved ones can be protected. Planning your estate right down to the last detail will enable you to do just that.

Regardless of the size of your estate, it is vital that you sort things out for your heirs.  I provide a checklist of items (below) that everyone should deal with when planning their estates.

  • Physical assets: This is an obvious inclusion in estate planning and is usually where most people start. You need to prepare a detailed list of all the physical items that you own that can be deemed as assets. Obvious inclusions are high-value items such as a house, any other property you own, cars and vehicles, as well as expensive art.  But don’t neglect low value items too, as these add up. I suggest (as a rule of thumb) you should make a list of any physical item that is greater than $100 in resale value.  Therefore you should list items such as computers, televisions, home theatre systems etc, as well as jewellery that you own.
  • Non-physical assets: Once you have listed all your physical assets, you should move on to creating a list of non-physical assets. This includes all bank accounts that you may have; personal as well as business related. If you own shares in any company, then those should be listed too. Along with listing the necessary items, do remember to list the names of the respective banks and companies too, as well as all your detailed account information.
  • Review all your retirement plans: Another vital aspect of estate planning is a review of all your retirement solutions. This includes pensions, superannuation funds, annuities, as well as insurance policies. You need to review each of these in turn to ensure that everything is up to date and all contributions and premiums are being paid properly. You should also check the nominations in each case to ensure the right people are nominated to receive the benefits upon your death.
  • List your liabilities: Planning an estate is not just about going through your assets and dividing them between your heirs. You also need to make a list of all your liabilities (debts) so that they can be dealt with in the right manner from your estate income. Liabilities include any loans that may be pending such as a home loan, car loans, business loans etc. You should also make a list of all your credit cards along with the balances due on all of them. Once you have listed all your liabilities, you need to specify how you want them to be paid off in the event of your death.
  • Make a Will: Once you have made a list of all your assets and liabilities, you should create a will. The distribution of your assets (which may include a superannuation fund, shares, property titles etc) after paying off your liabilities should be clearly mentioned in the will. If you have any special bequests, say for example to a charity, you can include these in your will.  I work closely with service-oriented and affordable lawyers who have expertise in wills and estate law, and am happy to recommend one suitable for your needs. Note also: if you do not make a will your estate will be administered and distributed (usually to family members) according to a specific set of criteria. This criteria however, doesn’t necessarily reflect your or the deceased’s final wishes or preferences. That is why estate planning and having a valid will are important.
  • Choose an executor: This is another vital aspect of estate planning. Since you won’t be present to see your Will being carried out, it is necessary to appoint a person as executor of your will. This person will ensure that all your wishes are carried out as per your will. When appointing an executor, you need to choose a person who is responsible and who is extremely trustworthy. It is best to choose someone who is not a beneficiary under the terms of your will.
  • Setting up a trust: If you have a particularly large estate, say a vineyard, you may want to think about setting up a  trust to manage your estate. This can often be a smarter thing to do rather than creating a will as there is no probate to contend with. You can choose to manage the trust on your own till you are alive, or you can appoint a trustee who manages the trust as per your wishes, upon your death. A testamentary trust is a trust set out in a will that only takes effect when the person who has created the will dies. Testamentary trusts are usually set up to protect assets, such as from bankruptcy proceedings or where beneficiaries are not trusted to take care of their inheritance wisely.
  • Personal Care Directive: Many people create a document known as an “Personal Care Directive” when planning their estates. This document allows you to appoint a person(s) to make decisions of a “personal nature” on your behalf . This may include a list of medical directions that you want carried out should you become incapable of taking such decisions on your own.
  • Enduring Power of attorney: This is another type of legal document that helps in estate planning. A Power Of Attorney is basically a document that gives another person the power to manage your financial affairs in your absence or if you are medically unfit to do so.
  • Ensuring proper documentation: One of the most essential parts of estate planning is proper documentation. Once you have prepared all the lists and documents as mentioned above, you need to sign them properly in the presence of witnesses and then send the documents to your executor or administrator for safekeeping. You should also keep one copy of all the documents with yourself and another copy with your lawyers if possible. In the event of your death, these documents will be used to carry out your wishes for your estate.
  • Periodic updating of documents: A person’s estate is forever changing till they are alive and working, and so is their family. Therefore, you should review all your estate planning documents every few years and update them as and when required. For instance, if a new child has been welcomed into the family, you may want to include that child as a beneficiary under your estate. Hence by updating the important documents every few years, you can make sure that the plans for your estate always reflect your wishes.

I trust the checklist was helpful. A no-obligation discussion with me will give you and your loved ones a sense of direction on estate planning issues and what steps you should take. Hence I encourage you to book an appointment with me or simply ask a question via your email, click the button below.

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