How to take care of your family in life and in death

Apr 03, 2022
Here are 7 key points of estate planning to consider. Source: Getty

It is something I witness several times a year – an elderly client comes into my office whose husband has just died. He looked after all the family finances and she has no idea how to access any of the family’s finances.

On top of trying to arrange her husband’s funeral, she has to try to find his will, his executors, information on the family’s super fund, and – most difficult of all – the various family accounts’ usernames and passwords.

Estate planning is always a difficult subject to deal with, because who wants to arrange things for when they die? – but good communication and planning make the life of the surviving partner much easier, particularly during the inevitably stressful time of dealing with a partner’s death.

The problem is that no one knows which of a couple will die first, so the key to estate planning is that both partners should be involved in all aspects of the family finances. This is particularly so for someone who is still working, with unfinished business affairs that need to be cleaned up.

Here are seven key points of estate planning:

Communicate  

The sharing of information is crucial. Both partners should be aware of the family’s investments and advisors. Equally, the advisers should know both clients so as to make any transition as seamless as possible. Where one member of a couple has taken responsibility for the financial affairs they should leave specific instructions as to who to contact in the event of their death and what steps should be taken. 

Bank accounts  

What bank accounts does the couple have and, importantly, what are the accounts’ usernames and passwords? Where are the keys to the safety deposit box or the code to the safe at home?

Financial contacts

Who are the key family financial contacts and what are their phone numbers and email addresses: accountant, lawyer, insurance broker, financial advisor? With the strictness of current privacy laws, it is imperative that any company or adviser with whom the family does business is cognisant of the points of contact so that time need not be wasted in identifying key people. A couple should make sure their advisor and accountant know each other.

Super funds

Does the family have an industry super fund or a self-managed super fund? If the former, who runs it? If the latter, who are the trustees? Are the trustees corporate trustees (recommended) or an individual trustee (can cause major problems)?

Wills 

Where are the wills kept? Are they up-to-date? Who are the executors? Are the executors aware they are executors? Are they competent and of the right age to fill the role for a prolonged period? Equally, who are the powers of attorney?

Insurance

Does the couple have personal life cover, or buy/sell cover if they are in a business? Which insurance company is it with?

Other family assets

These should be recorded with the specific ownership of each noted and shared with the family accountant and lawyer. This includes family trusts, companies, motor vehicles, boats, holiday homes etc. 

Rodney Horin is CEO of wealth manager and aged-care provider Joseph Palmer & Sons

Have you got your estate planning in order?

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