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Ask the Experts w Catherine Elversson

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In the latest episode of our Ask the Experts series, Glen chats with Catherine Elversson, Senior Manager and Estate Planning Solicitor at Australian Unity to unpack why everyone should have an Estate Plan in place (even if you’re young and healthy).  

Estate Planning might seem like a problem for future you, but failing to act when we’re young and healthy can have major consequences including but not limited to, how our assets are distributed when we’re no longer here.  

We’re thrilled to be joined by Catherine Elversson, Senior Manager and Estate Planning Solicitor at Australian Unity. Catherine brings over 13 years’ experience in Estate Planning to this conversation having worked at some of Australia’s top financial institutions. 

In this conversation, Glen and Catherine covered a bunch of topics including: 

  • What is an Estate Plan and what does it actually include?
  • Why an Estate Plan is more than just a Will?
  • Why we need an Estate Plan even when we’re young and healthy
  • How to ensure your Super and Insurance are handled correctly + MORE 

What is an Estate Plan, and what does it actually include? 

Catherine reveals that alongside your Will, there are a range of additional important documents you need to prepare “as an Estate Planning Solicitor, I pull together a range of documents that will form your Estate Plan, including Wills, Power of Attorney documents and Enduring Guardianship,” explains Catherine.  

“Whilst you are still alive and if you were to be deemed incapable of looking after yourself, that’s where the Power of Attorney documents are followed. However, once you pass away the Power of Attorney documents become invalid and your Will is now considered the key document in your Estate Plan.” 

If you don’t have an Estate Plan in place and you pass away, the law steps in and will make decisions on your behalf on how your assets are to be distributed.  This is why it’s so important to get this sorted when you’re young, healthy and have the capacity to make these significant, legally binding decisions so that there is a clear plan in place. 

“We’re at a stage in our lives where we’re all working hard to accumulate our wealth, but it’s just as important to make sure it passes on properly to our children or family members,” tells Catherine. “An Estate Plan makes the process of organising your affairs smooth and seamless. Your loved ones will be grieving, so you want to do everything you can to avoid putting extra stress on them.” 

Scenario 1: What happens if you’re single, you’ve purchased a property and you don’t take out a Will? 

Before we dive into this example, we want to unpack a legal jargon term known as probate 

  • If you do have a Will > ‘Probate’ is the process of enacting that Will. 
  • If you don’t have a Will > You are unable to go through the process of ‘probate’ resulting in your family having to apply to the Supreme Court for approval to deal with your affairs. The law decides where your assets go according to a generic formula. 

Catherine explains further, “generally, if you’re a single person your assets go to your parents and in the majority of situations I see like this, people don’t actually want to give everything to their parents.” 

Scenario 2: What happens if you’re in a committed relationship – is a Will still required? 

While there is the assumption that if you’re in a de facto relationship your assets will automatically go to your partner, that isn’t always the case.  “Whether you’re a married couple, de facto or a same-sex couple, a Will adds certainty and clarity. It ensures that everything goes smoothly and quickly if the worst was to happen,” tells Catherine. 

“As you don’t have a marriage certificate when in a de facto relationship, you have to produce additional documents (such as a Statutory Declaration) to prove that you were in a long-term relationship.” Again, it’s more paperwork and roadblocks for your partner to navigate when you’re no longer around.  

The key reasons why an Estate Plan is so important: 

  • A Will ensure that your estate goes through the efficient process of probate 
  • Your assets are distributed in a seamless, stress-free way  
  • Your wishes are followed and you have control over your assets  
  • An Estate Plan leaves less to chance and less ability for people to challenge your wishes  

What you might not know about Super, Insurance and your Estate Plan 

“Most people believe that Super is automatically included in our Will. But, that’s not the case,” reveals Catherine.  

“Your Super and life insurance is what we call a non-Estate asset and isn’t automatically captured as part of your Will. You need to get proper advice from your financial adviser and solicitor to make sure that your Super and/or life insurance goes to the people you want it to. Plus, you need to ensure you’re making valid nominations,” Catherine explains. 

The valid Super beneficiary nominations include: 

  • Your partner 
  • Your children 
  • Someone that is financially dependent on you 
  • Your legal representative (if you don’t have someone that fits the above criteria and you want your Super death benefits and life insurance to become part of your estate) 

Our top takeaway points 

  1. Don’t leave it up to other people to make decisions for you: not having an Estate Plan means more paperwork, more lawyers and higher legal fees – which isn’t what you want to leave behind to your loved ones.  
  2. Planning ahead now means you have control over what happens to your assets: even if you don’t think you have a lot of assets yet, think about your Super balance and/or life insurance benefits and who you want them to go to when you’re no longer around.
  3. Now is a great time to get your Estate Plan sorted: the NSW government has passed new legislation that allows Estate Planning Solicitors to witness documents via video conference which has never happened before. It’s only valid until the end of 2021, which is the perfect reason to get your Estate Plan prepared this year.  

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