By Karen Cho, Lawyer, Owen Hodge Lawyers
Certainly you’ve heard it said, “If you want something done, ask a busy woman.” Well, busy friends, as soon as you have finished the fill-in-the-blank project, submitted your project management plan for next week, dropped the kids off at swim practice, and pitched your new novel to your publisher, please do your will, and make it part of your overall financial plan. Oh, and I need it on my desk no later than noon tomorrow.
We laugh because we have all had days like that. Women need estate plans more than anyone else, precisely because we tend to be at the centre of things. Yet because we all have so many other competing priorities, the task gets neglected. Why is this? It may be a shadow of the bad old days, when we didn’t have our own money. Or it might be a lack of understanding around the importance of having an estate plan. Perhaps we just need a minute to consider all the nifty things an estate plan can do. It’s a good all-purpose tool and here are four big reasons you need one.
You’ll probably live a long time
Many married women assume that if the house and the accounts are in both names, there is no need for a will. That may be enough if you are the first to pass away, but women tend to live longer than men, and many women are married to men a little older than they are, making it doubly unlikely.
Families come in all varieties, and over a long enough period of time anything can happen. Should you find yourself widowed or divorced the last thing you will want to deal with is making a will. If yours is a blended family with “his, mine, and ours,” the planning can become a little intricate. If you are in a de facto relationship, jointly owned assets may not pass automatically, so you should make your intentions clear with a will. It is simply a matter of covering contingencies in advance.
Take care of the people who depend on you
If you pass away without a will, you may leave a big, expensive headache for those you leave behind, who we will suppose, are already bereaved. Everything you own will be subject to probate proceedings, which can be time consuming and expensive. That could put many people’s lives on hold.
What if you were paying for a child’s schooling from an account in your name only? Nothing will be paid while the estate is being settled. If you pass away without either a will or immediate family, all of your assets will go to the state, which may not what you intend.
Speaking of causing a headache, what if you became incapacitated? You would not want to burden your nearest and dearest by making them decide what to do with you. A good estate plan should also include an enduring power of attorney and an advance health directive.
If you have an interest in a business, that interest may similarly be subject to probate, which could prevent the business from functioning. The income for employees or partners would simply stop. Shouldn’t your estate plan also include a succession plan for your business?
If you have children, you must provide for guardianship
If you have minor children, the most important thing you must do is to provide a guardianship arrangement to cover the possibility that you and your spouse pass away simultaneously in the event of a disaster. This may also involve creating a trust so that the guardian has access to the assets necessary to look after the children. This may be a very good time to review your insurance coverage to make sure that children are adequately provided for, as well.
With a will, you can also make individual gifts
These are known, in legal terms, as specific bequests, and this is the more pleasant side of estate planning. If your cousin Hermoine has always admired your emerald earrings, you can make sure that she gets them, but only if you provide for that in your will. Tagging everything with sticky notes guarantees nothing. Without a will everything will be divided in a fairly mechanical fashion that does not recognise special relationships.
It may be helpful to think of your estate plan as a continuing part of your financial plan, rather than the sad, last good bye. You know how to run things. You can do a great deal to ensure that the future looks as it should for the people who depend on you. Now, look sternly in the mirror, and say, “I need it by noon tomorrow.” When it’s done you can get started on next week’s to-do list, study Portuguese, and plan the alumni reunion.
For more information visit the Owen Hodge Lawyers website www.owenhodge.com.au
About Karen Cho
With nearly a decade of experience in the legal profession, Karen’s main areas of interest include wills and probate matters, conveyancing, criminal law, debt recovery, civil litigation and commercial transactions. For every client Karen strives to reach positive outcomes and she does this by offering attentive, time-effective and friendly service.