Your will can save your family pain

Nominating who your assets go to upon your death can eliminate mess and confusion, writes Sally Patten.

The subject is not a cheery one, but it has to be brought up at some stage. So here goes. You need a will. Kate McCallum, of Multiforte Financial Services, argues that anyone with more than a few thousand dollars in the bank should have a will.

True, arranging a will is not so much about putting you on a path to becoming financially independent or helping you to afford overseas holidays twice a year when you retire. It is about providing for the people you care about and ensuring that they will not be lumbered with unwanted administrative chores if you die.

Even if you don't have a lot of money, you might want to leave personal items, such as jewellery or artworks, to certain family members or friends. You also have the option of leaving money to charity.

If you don't have a will, notes Legal Aid NSW, you have no say in how your property and belongings – your estate – are distributed if you die. Your estate will be distributed to your relatives according to a legal formula. It is also critical to nominate a guardian for your children should both parents die.

The cheapest option for obtaining a will is a do-it-yourself kit from a newsagency. But McCallum cautions that while in very simple cases, the DIY route might be fine, these sorts of exercises can be much more complex than you realise.

Other options are to ask a solicitor to draw one up, or a public trustee. The latter is usually the cheaper of these two, but fees will apply when the public trustee administers the will.

McCallum says individuals can expect to pay between $100 and $1000 for a will from a solicitor, depending on the level of complexity.

There is one little inconvenience here regarding your assets and belongings if you die – frustratingly, a will does not cover superannuation.

Super is covered by separate rules, so you need to sign a separate piece of paper, known as a binding death benefit nomination, which details who you would like your retirement savings to go to. If you die, the super fund will distribute your super savings according to your wishes.

A binding death nomination lasts for three years, after which it must be re-signed. Your super fund will send you a reminder every three years. If you are unsure whether you have a binding death nomination, one phone call to your fund should be able to sort this out.

And one last piece of sound advice. McCallum recommends that every three years, as you re-sign your super binding death nomination, you should also revisit your will to ensure it is up to date. If you are getting married or divorced, or grandchildren are born, you should change your will to take into account the new circumstances.


A will on the agenda

Like many people, Vivian Lee (pictured) has managed to not get around to making a will. She thought about it when her son was born three years ago, then again on his first birthday, but has yet to make it happen.

"I'm happy-go-lucky in a dumb kind of way, I guess," says Lee, a dentist.

"I have a defining belief that things will always work out."

Lee, 39, has a thriving family dental practice in Melbourne with her husband, whom she met while studying dentistry in Sydney. They have had their own practice for eight years.

"James has got income protection and he's got a will; his mum's got a law background and so has his brother.

"But I've never had one – it's just one of those things that I've never got done. I started discussing it with my husband on Emmanuel's birthday and then we got sidetracked and never finished the discussion."

And while she has the business and the family home, Lee believes that "from a financial point of view, I'm an 'unspecial' person".

"My sister's married to the Dick Smith of Taiwan, so I don't have to worry about that. My parents are also in Taiwan.

"And it's such a weird thing in [my husband's] family: there's an unspoken thing that if something happens to one member of the family there's no need to worry – things will be taken care of."

Nevertheless, a will is now on the agenda. "I've a long list of things to do and I'm constantly struggling to get on top of it. Making a will's on that list."

Case study: Natasha Hughes

June 2016