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.

Genders and Partners

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.

Genders and Partners

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.

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.

Genders and Partners

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.

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.

Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: DIY Superannuation

Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: DIY Superannuation

Have you been watching the news recently?  It has been a challenge trying to make sense of all the current news reports on this financial crisis.

A lot of Australians choose to remain blinkered about the impact that the current crisis will continue to have in our local markets as well as globally.  If you are sitting in your home in suburban Australia thinking that all these financial crisis events don’t relate to you, you might be in for a nasty surprise.

For most people, their primary concern is the cost of petrol, rising food prices, health care and housing affordability.  Those concerns don’t magically disappear when you retire…in fact they tend to get magnified through the lense of “fixed income”.

Chances are that you have some form of superannuation and in most cases it is probably a managed super fund.

At the moment, almost all of the big managed super funds in Australia are announcing huge (20% to 30%) reductions (losses) of capital of value.  Some funds have lost more than 30%. They might try to “spin” this as no big deal, and encourage you to take a “long-term” view of the market performance.  They’ll show a graph of managed-funds values over 20 years or so, and say that you have to expect some “swings and roundabouts”.  Of course the fund managers get paid whether the fund values go up or down …

Maybe this isn’t too alarming for some people. However, if you’re in your 60’s and looking to retire the next couple of years, how do you recover from a pretty big dent in your retirement fund?

You might be forgiven for wondering just what you’ve been paying-for with those managers’ fees all these years, and whether there might be a better solution?

Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: Silence & Procrastination: Your Family’s Enemies

Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: Silence & Procrastination: Your Family’s Enemies

When people consider end-of-life issues, they often don’t want to talk about it with their family, out of a desire to spare everybody’s feelings.  After all, death & dying is nobody’s favourite topic of conversation. It makes a lot of people feel awkward & uncomfortable, inadequate & out of control.  As a result they keep hidden their wishes regarding a variety of important issues.   They also tend to put-off making the essential decisions and plans which would really spare everybody’s emotions.

Stress and grief cause a lot of very strong emotions, so leaving important decisions until you are sick, or hoping that family-members will somehow know what to do at that time, can sometimes lead to poor decisions.  Mistakes get made; shortcuts are taken; errors of judgment compound an already-difficult situation.

And (like insurance), you generally cannot put suitable arrangements and protections in place after the disaster has struck.

That is why it is essential for everyone to make appropriate advance-medical and end-of-life decisions in advance. It is far better and easier to make these decisions when you (and your family) are still healthy and calm – it will be less tense and emotionally charged.

Make your advance-medical-directive wishes clearly understood to your family, so there is no need for doubt or interpretation on their part at a crisis-moment.  It can help prevent a lot of problems later and is likely the kindest thing a person can do for the sake of family unity.

Genders and Partners

Estate Planning for Every Business Owner

Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: Estate Planning for Every Business Owner

Every business owner needs some basic estate planning documents, even if you are not married, have no-one financially dependent upon you, or your business is not worth much yet.   You should consider the potential value of your business, and recognise that it is dependent upon you  If you have a spouse, life partner, or children, you definitely need to consider estate planning documents to provide for what would happen if you die or become incapacitated.

Here are the documents you may need to obtain:

Enduring Power of Attorney

This document gives another person power (your agent) to handle your finances in your absence.  This may include paying your bills, negotiating a lease, dealing with employees, contractors & government departments, or working with your bank.  You can give your agent power immediately or only upon your incapacity.

Medical Power of Attorney

Everyone age 18 and over should have this document.  It names & empowers the person you want to make medical decisions for you, if you cannot do it for yourself.  Do yourself & your loved ones a BIG favour, and create this now.

Will

Your Will says who you want to receive your assets after you die, who should handle your affairs upon your passing, and who you want to be a guardian for your children.  This must be formally executed to be valid, typically with 2 witnesses, depending upon state law.  Everyone should have a Will.

Other Documents

Some of you may need other documents, such as discretionary trusts, property agreements, co-habitation agreements, pre-nuptial agreements, irrevocable trusts, special needs trusts, superannuation trusts or life insurance trusts.

Estate Planning- The Revolution Continues

Wills and Estate Planning Adelaide: Estate Planning After Relationship Breakdown

Estate Planning After Relationship Breakdown

If you are about to separate from your spouse or partner, but your current Will, Trust or Advance Directives still give him or her control over your assets and your medical decisions, it’s urgent that you have all of your estate planning documents re-created now.

No matter how old you are or whether you have kids, it’s important to consult a lawyer who specialises in estate planning to make sure you have an updated estate plan for your new life once the dust has settled.

If you are married, remember that in all Australian states the law considers you to still be legally married until your divorce becomes final, and this cannot happen until at least 12 months after separation. If anything happens to you before that divorce Decree-Absolute is issued, your estranged spouse will retain the power to make decisions over those aspects of your life, if that is what your estate planning documents permit.  Remember also, that marriage will generally revoke and invalidate an earlier Will, however Divorce may not have the opposite effect. If you have separated, but haven’t gotten around to making a new Will and advance directives (such as powers of attorney), you definitely need to deal with these now.