Talking with your loved ones about inheritance and your Will can be difficult. But it’s an essential step in making sure your estate is distributed and managed according to your wishes.
Why you need a Will
There are many persuasive reasons to create a Will. If you die without one (known as ‘dying intestate’), a standard formula is used to distribute all your property and possessions. Without a Will, you have no control over who gets what.
The situation can be further complicated if you die with no spouse or children, have not registered your de facto relationship, have a blended family, or have a culturally diverse family with traditions that vary from Australian law.
Making a Will is the only way to be certain your lifetime of hard work is passed on to the people you choose. It secures your family’s financial future and makes the management of your funeral and estate much easier. Think of your Will as a gift to your loved ones to help guide them through a difficult time.
Make sure your Will is up to date
It’s important to revisit and review your Will regularly. Circumstances and views change; that’s life. Perhaps you have divorced or remarried. Perhaps you have purchased new property or new shares. Perhaps your appointed guardian is now living overseas. Your Will should accurately reflect the changes in your life.
Discuss your Will with your beneficiaries
No-one likes to be reminded of their mortality; as such, discussions about Wills can be confronting and clouded by emotion. However, it’s best to avoid surprises. Discussing inheritance will reduce the risk of someone contesting your Will after you’ve passed away. While it’s imperative you discuss your Will with your appointed executors, trustees and guardians, it’s also a good idea to discuss it with your loved ones and beneficiaries.
Starting the conversation is an important step in managing your estate. Your plans could fall apart if your loved ones are uncertain about how to organise your funeral or manage your estate, and keep in mind that they will be grieving while being called on to perform numerous tasks. A conversation will ensure that everyone is clear about your instructions and prepared to carry them out.
Here are some tips on how to approach the subject with your loved ones:
- Be open and clear: it’s up to you how much detail you want to give. Each circumstance is different but often the more information, the less distressed the beneficiaries. Talking in detail about your Will may seem difficult now, but it will make things much easier for your loved ones later.
- Avoid surprises: news of an unequal inheritance can cause confusion, but talking through the rationale will help avoid conflict and hurt down the track. Perhaps one of your children is less financially secure than another and you may wish to address this in your Will.
- Encourage questions and suggestions: your loved ones may surprise you with their own good ideas about how to share and manage your estate, or they may have meaningful suggestions for your funeral. You could give them a chance to be part of the planning process.
How to start the Will process
The first step in the Will process is to consult a lawyer who has expertise in Wills and estates. A lawyer can help you work out how to structure your Will, decide what assets you need to consider and ensure your Will meets all the legal requirements. Seeking legal advice will help you work out what you want, avoid unnecessary costs and reduce the chance your Will may one day be contested.
Death, like life, isn’t meant to be easy, but there are ways to make it less difficult for you and those around you.
Kerry-Ann Smith is an Associate in Maurice Blackburn's Melbourne office.