When it comes to planning what will happen to your estate after you’re gone, the task can bring up some unpleasant thoughts or cause strains between family members who may be reluctant to discuss the topic of death. However it is important to plan ahead and make sure that you have put the necessary motions in place should anything happen.
However shocking new research has revealed that more than half of Australians (53 per cent) have not put together a will, with the main reason for failing to compile one being pure procrastination, as 40 per cent of those without one said they planned to do so but had not got around to it yet.
Almost one third of those without a will said they felt they had nothing valuable to bequeath, while 28 per cent admitted to feeling “too young” to write a will and 16 per cent of respondents simply didn’t want to think about dying.
The research, which was commissioned by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, also revealed that almost half of those without a will admittedly have no idea what will happen to their assets if they pass away without a Last Will and Testament in place.
Andrew Simpson, national head of Wills and Estates Law at Maurice Blackburn, described the results as “concerning”, saying they reveal a lack of awareness among Australians about the importance of having a will and what happens if you die without one.
“This research reflects what we hear each day,” he said. “That a significant proportion of the Australian adult population don’t have a will, that those who don’t have a will are highly misinformed about why a will is important and that many people are in the dark about what actually happens if you pass away without a will.
“It also confirms concerns we commonly hear that preparing a will could be a difficult and time consuming process when in reality that is not the case, irrespective of your circumstances.”
A total of 1,287 people, aged 18 and over, took part in the study, which also revealed that around 75 per cent of those who do have a will believed it was up to date and in line with their wishes, while one quarter said their will required updating or weren’t sure.
The research, which was carried out by OmniPoll, also found that, among those over the age of 50, just over one third were aware of an advance care directive – EXPLAIN – however just 11 per cent actually had one in place.
Simpson went on to explain that, while many people believe they own nothing of value, this is a common misconception as people regularly overlook the likes of pets, digital assets and even superannuation funds when they think about what assets they have.
“[There are a] range of assets that may need to be dealt with when a person passes away,” he said. “This can include things like your pets and even your digital assets, but the two biggest issues that are forgotten about are superannuation and life insurance.”
However Simpson said that the most concerning factor to emerge from the findings is that almost 40 per cent of people surveyed who do not have a will, have no idea what happens if they pass away without one and almost a quarter wrongly assume that their next of kin can choose what happens in that case.
He added: “It is understandable that people assume their family can step in to deal with their affairs if they pass away unexpectedly without a will but in most cases that’s not what happens.
“Each State and Territory has laws in place that apply a set formula to decide who benefits from an estate if there is no will.”
While many people associate wills with those in the later stages of life, Simpson also stressed the importance of having a will despite your age, particularly if you are married, have children or make a large purchase or investment, such as property.
The findings revealed that the most common catalyst for people deciding to write a will was being diagnosed with a serious illness.
Simpson added: “It’s not surprising that with statistics like these, the number of disputes we see in relation to the administration of deceased estates, and superannuation death benefits, are increasing.
“Many people also incorrectly assume that because they are young, not married, don’t have kids or don’t own a house that they don’t need a will, [but] unfortunately a will may be needed at any time in an adult’s life and often without warning.
“There also needs to be much greater awareness that if people want choice and control over how their assets are managed when they pass away that having a will is crucial, and that this doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive to put in place.”
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