Prince’s passing not only brought to light his incredible music legacy, but also the repercussions of not having your affairs in order. In the three weeks following Prince’s death, according to the agency appointed to sift through the estate, over 700 Americans have made claims to be half siblings of Prince and it is expected that more claims will be made with Prince’s total estate estimated to be worth $300 million. Don’t let this happen to you or your family.
Even though a Will is probably one of the most important documents you will ever sign, studies show that at least 45% of Australians do not have a valid Will. For those under 35 the statistic is much, much worse.
As we age, thankfully, many of us do start to consider writing our Will and hopefully most of you reading right now will have one in place. Here is the challenge though, when was the last time you read it? When was it last updated to reflect changes in your life, like a new grandchild, son or daughter in law, divorce or a remarriage?
A 2015 report titled ‘Having the Last Word: Will Making and Contestation in Australia’, suggests that will contestation may be more common that we would like to believe with 86% of claims bought by immediate family. A more uncomfortable outcome was that 74% of contestation cases were successful and involved a change in distribution. With that in mind does your current will make it clear what you want and more importantly how secure are those wishes? Too often, we hear of cases where a person’s wishes have not been followed due to an invalid or poorly prepared Will.
The do-it-yourself trend and the internet have made writing your own Will seem like an easy way to get your affairs in order. While having any Will is better than no Will at all, most people are unaware that doing it yourself can have unintended and potentially disastrous consequences for your estate and your family. We are not saying such documents are bad, but rather that they need to be put together carefully to ensure they are valid and enforceable and to achieve this may mean you need to seek some professional advice while you are getting your thoughts together.
There are many issues that need careful consideration and that that most of us wouldn’t know how to address without professional assistance. For example, a skilled Estate Planning Lawyer can give expert advice on the impacts of blended families or having a beneficiary with a disability or any of the other complications associated with family life.
They can also help you to think about the management of assets that never form part of your estate and as such, are not managed by your Will. For instance, were you aware that your superannuation does not automatically form part of your estate? This is because, generally speaking, only assets owned in your name such as your house, car, investments and savings will make up your estate and can be dealt with under your Will. This means you will need good advice on how assets held in joint names will be dealt with upon your death. It pays to do some homework on these things and can save some real family struggles and heartaches.
You need to be aware that ‘do it yourself’ approaches to Will making can make it too easy to trip yourself up if you don’t have a good understanding of how all your assets may be dealt with. Importantly not adopting some of the formalities that must be followed to make a Will legally binding, may render if invalid. We often hear of Wills that become void because of problems with witnesses, which in one case made an earlier version of a Will the valid one. This was very unfortunate as the Will deemed valid was made during a previous marriage leaving the new spouse in a very difficult position. This is just one of a number of things that can invalidate your will.
We are not saying that you can’t make your own Will but before you do make sure you have a good think about your life, your assets and your situation to determine whether or not you will need some help to get it right. Seeking legal advice is not just an investment in your future but that of your family and loved ones.
Your Will is arguably the most important document you will ever sign in your life so making sure it has been properly written and is legally binding should be a priority. A failure to do so may leave your family with nothing but a legacy of arguments and legal bills.
Karen Martin is CEO of Y&W, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to empowering people to become informed, prepared and organised for whatever life may bring. Y&W wants to encourage all Australians, regardless of age or life stage, to plan and protect their futures.