Family Office
Wills are an afterthought for the rich: Lawyer

The number of wealthy people who don't have wills or rely on do-it-yourself will kits still comes as no surprise to an estate planning expert.

Australian Unity Trustees national manager of estate planning Anna Hacker says wealthier people are not as organised in their estate planning despite popular belief.

People with a lot of wealth don't necessarily understand the importance of protecting it, she told a media briefing yesterday.

The wealthy are typically organised in putting structures in place for their businesses and trusts, she says, but some fall short of taking the final steps in putting their will in order. The late Australian racing car driver Peter Brock is a case in point.

Brock had three wills between 1984 and 2006, two of which were prepared via will kits, according to law firm Hunt & Hunt.

One was signed by Brock but not properly witnessed, while the other was never signed.

Brock's family members battled it out in the Victorian Supreme Court to determine which will was valid, resulting in "considerable dissipation of estate assets," the law firm said.

Australian Unity Trustees general manager Emma Sakellaris, who also spoke at the event, is seeing "fast track to inheritance" scenarios among families whereby parents live longer and children become increasingly "antsy" about their inheritance.

Children have to wait until their parents turn 80 or 90-years-old before they receive an inheritance, not at 60 or 70-years-old, she says.

Another shift she's noticed is once parents lose capacity, the children tend to argue about how mum or dad should be cared for.

Sakellaris said it's critical for families to start conversations about enduring powers of attorney - but more importantly to document and be explicit about who will make the decisions; who is appointed executor; and what type of burial will take place.

Other than funeral bonds which are binding, Sakellaris said she sees numerous cases where children did not follow funeral arrangement instructions in a will.

It's therefore important to choose an executor who is trustworthy because he or she will have the final say, she said.

Read more: Australian Unity TrusteesEmma SakellarisPeter BrockAnna Hacker
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