Genders and Partners

Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: Organ Donation as part of your Estate Plan

There are a number of ways in which you can make an anatomical gift, which is a gift of your organs, body parts or your entire body for transplant, therapy, research or education.

Although you can put a clause in your Will or other properly signed and witnessed documents, it is best to sign up on a nonprofit organ donor registry such as the Australian Organ Donor Register.

This registry is a confidential computerised database that documents your wish to be an organ, tissue and/or eye donor. It integrates with the various state Departments of Motor Vehicles to note upon your drivers licence at the time of renewal.

In your medical power of attorney, you could give the power to make an anatomical gift to your medical agent, who would then have the authority to make a gift of all or part of your body in accordance with your previously-expressed wishes.

You may have a concern that your life might be ended prematurely in the interest of harvesting your organs. By law, every effort has to be made to prolong your life in accordance with your wishes, before an anatomical donation is considered. Also by law, the medical team treating you must be separate from the transplant team.

Generally, with the exception of gifts during your own lifetime such as blood, a kidney or bone marrow, body-part recoveries can only be pursued after all life-saving measures have been exhausted and you are officially declared dead.

There are no guarantees with anatomical gifts. Just because you direct that your body or parts be used for transplants, therapy, research or education, does not necessarily make it so. Your anatomical gifts must be examined and be acceptable to the medical school, anatomy department or organ transplant team.

There always is a need for bodies and body parts. There are long waiting lists for people in need of transplants. Even if your eyesight is poor, you may have a good transplantable cornea that could give somebody the gift of sight. You may have skin that can be used to aid a burn victim or bone that could be used for an accident victim.

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Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: Estate Planning for Children with Special Needs

Estate Planning for Children with Special Needs

Most parents of disabled children worry about the day they won’t be around to help care for them, whatever their age.  They want to help them qualify for government (state or federal) assistance for medical and other services, and also to provide for their recreation, clothing and other small luxuries that improve the disabled person’s quality of life.

The difficulty for these parents, is in trying to grapple with the too-hard decision of who will look-after their children after the parents have gone. Many cannot overcome this emotional-paralysis, and simply hope against hope they will live just slightly longer than their child, so that neither parent nor child ever have to deal with the situation.

The reality is that most disabled children outlive their parents, so providing for their care after the caregiver’s death is a vital issue. If the parent simply leaves money for the child, it could disqualify the child for government assistance, but still not provide properly for the child’s special needs.

A special needs trust may present a solution. A lawyer specialising in the legal needs of the elderly and disabled, can help the parents or other family members to set up a trust.  With careful planning (both legal & financial), the assets may not be taken into account by the government when assessing the child’s entitlement to assistance, but distributions from the trust are used to provide greater comfort & independence for the child.

In this way, even after the parents have died, they can continue to care for their children. This can assist children with a variety of disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, the aftermath of vehicle accidents, chronic diseases or anyone who may need a combination of government and private services to provide a good quality of life.

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Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: How Estate Planning Trusts Can Protect You and Yours

How Estate Planning Trusts Can Protect You and Yours

Estate planning and trusts are all about planning, not only for your own future, but also the financial well-being of your family and loved ones after you’re gone. However, the reality of life can often get in the way of a smooth transition – divorce, second marriages, step kids, long-term illness and other family changes can sometimes make life and plans unpredictable.

Protecting your wealth & assets and the financial well-being of your family is about a lot more than simply parcelling-out your assets – it’s about providing for yourself & your family members in a way that’s responsible and specifically addresses your personal situation.

Many people make the assumption that estate planning and trusts are only for incredibly rich people. That is wrong.

A family discretionary trust is a very versatile estate planning tool that allows you to address inheritance goals for your beneficiaries – who may still be children, are disabled, are from a mixed family  – and a trust might be the answer to difficult questions like who will manage your assets if you or they become incapacitated.

Typically, when a child inherits money, it is invested for him and held until he or she turns 18 or older. Of course, giving a young person access to a large amount of money at the age of 18 can be dangerous and detrimental to their long-term financial health if they lack maturity or sufficient financial wisdom.  Some parents think that the lure of fast cars and endless parties may be too great a temptation for their beneficiaries to handle at age 18, and so they specify an older age, frequently 21 or 25.

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Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: More common pitfalls of estate planning and how to avoid them

More common pitfalls of estate planning and how to avoid them

In my law practice I see lots of mistakes that people have made when it comes to estate planning, as well as some estate-planning strategies that could be used a lot more.

One of the most common mistakes is a misunderstanding of beneficiary nominations. Nowadays, many assets are transferred at death through superannuation funds, life insurance policies and annuities.

The owner of those investments or insurances (the person who set them up) will often have nominated a particular person(s) to receive the benefits of them, once the owner has died.  This is a separate & binding contract which can bypass the owner’s legal Will.

Many people don’t appreciate how important it is to get the designations of those nominated beneficiaries right.  I typically see beneficiary nominations where at the start of the marriage each spouse nominates the other as the sole nominated beneficiary for the super & the life insurance.  Unfortunately most people forget to keep their binding nominations up to date.  They forget to add the children, or only add some of them, leading to unintended consequences & heartache.

Similarly, if a child dies, most people would want that share to go to that child’s children, ie to the descendants, down the bloodline to the deceased child’s children.  Sadly many people get this wrong, and end up accidentally disinheriting their grandchildren.

And you can’t necessarily rely on “common sense” to sort it out after your death. Unfortunately, there’s little consistency within the financial-services industry. If the insurance plan administrator or superannuation trustee doesn’t know how to handle it, your family will be the ones paying to sort it out.

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Elder Law and Retirement Planning: The BIG Estate Planning Issues

Elder Law and Retirement Planning - The BIG Estate Planning Issues

Elder Law and Retirement Planning are areas of estate planning relating to government benefits such as veterans’ pensions, Medicare & Centrelink, as well as to accommodation issues specific to seniors, such as retirement village contracts.  Other issues might include the need for long term care planning, solving disputes with family members, providing for powers of attorney, medical care planning or guardianship.

Elder Law is a growing specialty of estate planning that helps the elderly deal with many of the problems unique to their circumstances as retirees:

  • Preservation or transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when one spouse enters a nursing home;
  •  Medicare claims and appeals; qualification and application; planning strategies;
  • Centrelink (formerly department of social security) pensions and disability claims and appeals;
  • Private health insurance issues;
  • Superannuation and life insurance issues;
  • Disability planning, including use of durable powers of attorney, discretionary trusts, advanced directives & “living wills,” for financial management and health care decisions, and other means of delegating management and decision-making to another in case of incompetency or incapacity;
  •  Guardianships;
  • Estate planning, including planning for the management of one’s estate during life and its disposition on death through the use of trusts, Wills and other planning documents;
  • Probate;
  • Administration and management of trusts and estates;
  • Long term care placements in nursing home and life care communities;
  • Nursing home issues including questions of capacity, patients’ rights and nursing home quality;
  • Elder abuse and fraud recovery cases;
  • Housing issues, including discrimination and home equity conversions (reverse mortgage);
  • Age discrimination in employment;
  • Retirement, including public and private retirement benefits, survivor benefits and pension benefits;
  • Mental health issues, especially regarding capacity and ability to live independently;
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Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: Estate Planning for Illness and Incapacity

Estate Planning for Illness and Incapacity

Millions of Australians live with chronic illness or disabling injury. Many more will develop progressive and degenerating diseases of the mind and body.  With so many facing life with such severe challenges, smart estate planning can make the difference between maximising control over your life or falling victim to it.

How should they plan their estate to maximise their freedom, independence & quality of life?

What impact will your chronic illness have upon your health & mobility, your capacity & cognitive functioning? How might this change over time? How do you protect yourself from its effects?

Each chronic illness, whether dementia or senility, Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or ALS, diabetes or cancer – has its own unique implications for planning. One-size-fits-all generic assumptions can be detrimental to you and your loved ones.

You should consult a lawyer who specialises in estate planning in Adelaide, preferably one with experience in dealing with the special needs of disabled & incapacitated people.

Your lawyer will discuss with you a variety of legal documents.  These may include Enduring Powers of Attorney, and how they may be tailored to address your concerns.

Other documents may include Medical Powers of Attorney (sometimes called living wills or health proxies), Advanced Directives, and Discretionary Trusts.

Your lawyer can draft legal documents to protect you in the context of your chronic illness, and to address the anticipated course of your illness.

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Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide : The Disinheritance Debate

Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide : The Disinheritance Debate

60 years ago, a baby girl was given up for foster care by her birth mother due to shame about her illegitimate birth.  They did not live together after the first year of the baby’s life, and after the first 7 years shared no relationship at all other than biological.

Now the birth mother has died and left only $100 in her Will to that baby girl (now aged 60). The bulk of the estate was left to two other daughters. The disinherited daughter successfully sued for a third of the estate.

People always say it’s not about the money. But when someone is left out of an estate, they feel hurt, and their emotions take them on a roller-coaster ride.  Money and love get mixed-up.  Heart and head collide.  Grief can very quickly turn to anger, and people can easily relive childhood slights.

Highly charged issues of hurt, shame, pride, greed, love, unfairness, resentment, anger, prejudice and entitlement take over from logical thought.

In my legal practice I have heard hundreds of reasons for excluding family from inheritance.  Older generations were brought up to have different degrees of tolerance for unwed mothers, couples living-together and same-sex relationships.  The rising numbers of step-children provide real challenges to family harmony, and in many cultures it is considered acceptable to leave the bulk of the estate to male children.

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Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: Peanuts and Monkeys in Estate Planning

It’s not hard to find do-it-yourself Wills or Will-kits and other estate-planning materials on the Internet. But the topic is complicated, and the right solution is specific to each individual.

The laws vary from country to country, and even within Australia they vary from state to state.  They also change over time, and the laws related to estate planning have also undergone rapid changes internationally over the past several years and are starting to change in Australia too.  Further changes to the law are expected in the next few years, as Australian governments try to cope with the retirement of so many Baby Boomers.

If you’re creating or updating an estate plan, it’s essential that you seek the advice of a lawyer who’s well versed in the key issues. Not only can a specialist lawyer advise you how to ensure that your assets are properly distributed and that your health care proceeds in accordance with your wishes, but he can also do so with an eye toward protecting those assets (from creditors, bankruptcy, litigation etc).

Of course, any time you hear the word “lawyer,” it’s natural to worry about the legal costs you might incur. But the process is more affordable than people fear. You might be tempted to postpone creating an estate plan, assuming that you need to have a lot of assets to make the process worthwhile. Alternatively, there are plenty of excuses to delay this important process: waiting until after they are married, until the kids are born, until the kids are grown, until they’ve retired, until the grandkids are born etc. But everyone – regardless of life stage or the size of their estate – should think about hiring a lawyer to draft the basic estate-planning documents: a Will, an Advanced Directive, and powers of attorney.

Before you hire an estate-planning lawyer to draft or update your estate plan, it’s important to understand your role in the estate-planning process. Your estate plan will be most effective if you spend some time at the outset finding the right lawyer for your needs and thinking through what you’re trying to achieve as well as whom you trust to see your wishes through.

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Death Duties May Be On The Way Back

Death Duties May Be On The Way Back

On 15 October 2009 the most senior tax-policy advisor to the Australian Federal Government, Dr Ken Henry (Chair – Australia’s Future Tax System Review Panel and Secretary to the Treasury) gave an Address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.

In that address he identified 6 areas of future opportunities and challenges governments will need to address in respect to taxation.  At the very top of his list was:

“the ageing of the population, posing challenges for the financing of retirement incomes and of increasing health and aged care needs”.

Dr Henry said that taxes levied on broader bases would be more efficient policy tools, probably more equitable and certainly more transparent ways of raising revenue. Without such tools, governments would otherwise be compelled to continue to rely on bad taxes to achieve their spending objectives.

What does this mean, and why should you care?

A number of senior political commentators have recently speculated in mainstream Australian newspapers, that Death Duties, Estate Taxes or Inheritance Levies might well be one of the options likely to be seriously explored, as part of the current tax-reform inquiry.

The re-introduction of death duties could have a severe impact on most deceased estates, unless great care has been exercised to create an effective estate-plan. This is just one example of how a change in the law could drastically affect you & your family.  Make sure that you have a valid, effective & integrated estate plan.  And keep it up to date.

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Estate Planning- The Revolution Continues

Estate Planning: The Revolution Continues

When I was at school, they taught both slide-rules and calculators, because we were the “transitional” generation. I grew up with pints & litres, pounds & kilos, inches & metres, and only some of the new measurements stuck in my brain. So now, when they describe some villain on TV as 180 centimetres tall, I never know if he’s a giant or a midget.

 I can empathise with Grandpa Simpson, when he said: “I used to be with ‘it’. But then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird & scary to me.”

 The Baby Boomers generation (born 1944 – 1964) has seen amazing social changes: sexual & racial equality; the metric system; GST & superannuation; outsourcing; computers & the digital age; political correctness.

We’ve been led down the path of expecting old traditions to continue in so many ways, but then suddenly we’re expected to adapt to “new realities” partway along the journey.

 So it is with estate planning.

 We cannot afford to assume that the old ways of doing things will still work in this brave new world.

Take codicils for example. Decades ago, when wealthy people made their Wills, these were enormously long & complicated documents, handwritten in neat copperplate calligraphy by a law clerk under the supervision of a solicitor. The entire document (sometimes hundreds of pages in length) would list and describe every individual asset with great precision, and the whole document would be one long sentence, as punctuation like commas was to be avoided at all costs.

With such an awkward and expensive process, it is not surprising that no-one wanted to make more than one Will in their life. Instead, if they needed to make a change, an additional document called a codicil would be created, which would vary the terms of the original Will, and both documents had to be read together, as one would not make sense without the other.

 Now, with modern Will-drafting techniques and computer word-processing, it is cheaper and safer to make a new Will rather than a codicil, so codicils have gone the way of the Dodo.

This is just one of the many ways that old ideas & practices in estate planning have changed.

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