TGB Lawyers’ Wills and Estates partner Sarah Mitchell outlines some of the important steps to take before your first appointment to assist in the easy preparation of your Will.
I often have clients comment when their appointment is over, “That was a lot easier than I thought it would be!”
Getting your estate planning documents in order isn’t the onerous task some people assume it to be. Having said that, there are some topics worth addressing, and information worth collating, before you see your lawyer.
This is a revised version of blog I prepared some years ago but it is still just as relevant today, and makes a good practical guide.
Before your appointment: Getting ready to make your Will
Preparation is key – here is a list of things to consider before your first appointment, which will save you time and ensure your wishes are truly represented in your Will.
Your solicitor is going to need the following details, so obtain these before your appointment:
- Full names with the correct spelling (including middle names) of all those people relevant to your estate planning such as your spouse (where relevant), all children (even those who may be estranged), grandchildren, executors and beneficiaries;
- Addresses including postcode;
- Dates of birth;
- Telephone numbers (particularly in relation to executors and Substitute Decision-Makers if you are having an Advance Care Directive prepared).
This information can assist us in ensuring your wishes are in fact carried out and any risks you need to be aware of are brought to your attention and discussed thoroughly.
Have you previously been married or in a de facto relationship?
These questions may seem intrusive; however, as former and current spouses are a class of potential claimants under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act, these details are required so that we can discuss any potential claims against your estate.
Details regarding whether or not an informal or formal property settlement was reached (in that previous relationship) are also relevant.
Are you currently in a relationship? Are you contemplating marriage to your partner?
These details are crucial to the advice we provide.
Think about who you want to appoint as your executor, and who might be an appropriate substitute executor if for some reason your first choice/s cannot undertake the role.
An “executor” is someone you are confident can be entrusted to make sure your wishes as expressed in your Will are carried out. It may be that there is a sibling or adult child/children that comes to mind as having the requisite level of responsibility and maturity to be appointed either solely or jointly.
The “beneficiaries” you select are the people who inherit from your estate. You can also include charitable beneficiaries to receive part of your estate or even the whole amount.
Your solicitor is also likely to ask for your alternate beneficiaries. If your chosen beneficiaries pass away before or with you, it is important to include a contingency – especially if you have a young family and may travel together, or have a small pool of beneficiaries. The alternate beneficiaries might be members of your wider family or charities.
What are your Assets and Liabilities?
Do you have an up-to-date grasp on the current values of your assets and liabilities?
Your lawyer will ask you for the details of all of your assets, how much they are valued at as well as how they are owned. For example, if you own real property you should know exactly how the property is owned i.e. in your sole name, or with another person/people as joint tenants or tenants in common.
Similarly, in relation to bank account and investments, what type of accounts or investments are they, and are they owned by you solely or with another person/people?
These details will have a crucial impact on the advice you are provided. If possible, pull out your Certificate of Title or bank statement and double check these details ahead of time.
Do you own shares?
Do you own motor vehicles or other personal chattels of significance?
Are you member of a superannuation fund?
- What is the name of the fund or funds?
- What is your fund number?
- How much is your benefit?
- Have you completed a nomination in relation to your superannuation and if so, who is your nominated beneficiary or beneficiaries and is your nomination preferred or binding?
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Do you have an interest in a family trust or proprietary company?
If you do, it is good to have these details to hand and even better if you have a copy of the Family Trust Deed or company details. These details can make it much easier for your solicitor.
Are you updating an existing Will?
If you are updating an existing Will and have a copy of your Will, please bring it along to your first appointment.
Your lawyer is likely to ask where the original is kept. After your new Will has been executed it is good practice to write to the lawyers who prepared your previous Will to let them know that you have updated your Will so they can amend their records accordingly.
Are there particular items you wish to leave to particular beneficiaries?
You may not wish to leave anything particular to a beneficiary or beneficiaries, but simply leave your estate in its entirety to a person or group of people or charities by way of particular division.
Turn your mind to how you wish to divide your estate and have this information ready to articulate.
If you have children who are minors, you will need to think about what age you want them to receive any appropriate inheritance. It is good to think about whether or not you would like your children to be 18, 21, 25 or 30 years of age when they come into their inheritance, taking into account that the executors you have appointed will be in charge of investing this money until they reach the requisite age.
Guardian of Infant Children
Have you considered who you would like to appoint as the guardian for your infant children should you predecease them?
You may decide to appoint more than one. Ultimately the Family Court has the jurisdiction to decide what is best for your child or children in this circumstance, however, the potential for your wishes to be factored into any such decision may be increased if those wishes are expressed clearly in your Will.
Be aware the guardian you appoint may not necessarily be the person that your children reside with, however they will be the ones to make all important life decisions about your minor children until they are old enough to make their own decisions.
You will have the opportunity in your Will to specify whether or not you wish to be buried or cremated, as well as organ donation and any other relevant wishes.
We recommend you communicate these wishes to your executors as soon as possible, in case your Will comes to their attention after any decisions of this nature need to be made.
This may seem like a lot to consider, but taking the first positive step and having your affairs in order will ease the burden on loved ones and be a weight off your mind. Once you’ve taken these preliminary steps, your lawyer will be able to do the rest!