Estate planning is more than just making a plan

Date: Jun 27, 2011

A good estate plan is more than just making a will to distribute assets - it should also take into account your personal and financial goals.

A website set up by the government to provide advice to seniors asserts that the first - and most important thing to do when it comes to estate planning - is to talk to a legal professional.

Having everything in order will ensure your estate is handled as quickly as possible and also gives you the comfort of knowing that your wishes will be carried out.

Otherwise your family members may have to take on the task of making difficult choices. What may seem clear now may change over time and failing to plan ahead can lead to potentially expensive and painful family disputes.

The preparation of a will is the most basic level of estate planning, which can also often involve appointing an executor, determining whether a power of attorney is required and potentially establishing discretionary trusts.

Approximately half of Australians die intestate, or without leaving a valid will. In such a case, it is legislation that will determine how your assets are distributed and the government may also decide who looks after your children if they are still minors.

Other issues to consider in estate planning include asset protection, probate avoidance, tax planning, planning for illness or incapacity, selection of guardians, personal representatives and other fiduciaries, formation of family limited partnerships and other business entities, and succession strategies for family businesses.

Forbes magazine recommends thinking about three objectives when considering estate planning.

"Make your plan easy to administer... and figure out how to leave your estate so that it can be put to the best use possible by your heirs," the publication suggests.

When it comes to goals, some families may need a trust to manage and distribute assets to minor children.

A will can also incorporate testamentary discretionary trusts and amendments to your family trust deed or self-managed superannuation fund.

You also need to turn your mind to what assets should be included when developing an estate plan. Think about including real estate, business and farm interests, investments, retirement plans, life insurance proceeds, personal property, art or other collections, cash and personal effects.

Then valuation of those assets may be necessary. Consider the fair market value but also how you own them legally, their growth potential and liquidity.

Estate planning can be as simple as making a will or much more complicated but the most important thing is to do it now. Speak to a trusted wills and estates lawyer to find out how best to proceed.