It’s not exactly the most cheery subject, but estate planning is regardless a very interesting topic.
We got the year off to a cracking start with Argyle Lawyers principal Peter Bobbin telling the Nest Egg podcast team that Australian estate planning is facing an “impending disaster”.
Noting that between 25 and 40 per cent of people die intestate, or without a will, he said: “I suspect that part of that statistic is influenced also by a loss of documents.
“So not only is it important to have proper, strong, appropriate documents that fit your plan in place… but you should also know where they are [and] ensure others know where they are.”
He also reminded Australians that marriage “cancels a will entirely”, something that Australian Unity Trustee’s national manager of estate planning, reiterated last month.
Speaking to Nest Egg about the recently passed same-sex marriage legislation, Anna Hacker said same-sex couples should be aware of how marriage can change their legal circumstances.
She explained: “Marriage generally revokes any previous will automatically, so those entering into marriage should consider updating their wills to make sure they take into account the marriage.”
While same-sex marriage was one of the biggest conversations in 2017 Australia, assisted dying and euthanasia also occupied a lot of space in the public discourse.
For estate planning, the legalisation of assisted dying procedures throws up a few questions about superannuation, as WLM Financial strategist and financial planner, Sean McGowan said.
Speaking just prior to the historic decision in November, Mr McGowan said: “If you get to this point where you want to use these new rules, if they get in place, you probably at that point are going to need a terminal illness condition of release in the superannuation.
“So, rather than waiting to die to get your superannuation paid out, you're probably better having it paid out under a terminal illness benefit because it's tax free.”
Ms Hacker added that the legislation means people should be having an “extra level of conversation with family members” about power of attorney and end-of-life decisions.
She said: “The specifics of this legislation does come up in estate planning conversations… I have seen in the last decade more and more people that have been wondering about when it comes to end of life, and appointing someone to act on your behalf and more people than not wish that they could give their attorney that power to end their life if there was no real enjoyment of life.”
She continued: “I think that this legislation is going to be welcomed, [and] it's going to be creating more conversations about: what can my attorney do? The reality is that the attorney can't do anything, but that conversation is going to keep continuing.”
In one of the more unusual cases of the year, the Supreme Court of Queensland found that an unsent text can count as a will, while the impact of dementia on not only cognitive ability but estate plans made headlines after Bill Gates pledged to invest US$50 million to fight the disease.
However, 2017 also saw an uptake in the number of people keen to enjoy life now and worry less about the kids’ inheritance. A report released in October found that just 3 per cent of respondents plan to preserve all their savings for beneficiaries and 10 per cent are set to spend it all on themselves.
At the same time, Anne McGowan from Protecting Seniors Wealth warned that “financial predators” often try to take advantage of juicy SMSFs.
She said: “As people age and become older, they do become reliant on people to assist them, and… those people who are genuinely assisting the older people should be commended, and there are so many people that do, but there is a growing number of people with inheritance impatience.
“They're most often the family members… but I have heard stories of some financial planners and some lawyers — not too many — also doing the wrong thing.”
However, it could be that estate planning, wills and inheritances will be relegated to the past if biomedical gerontologist, Dr Aubrey de Grey has anything to do with it.
The expert in the scientific study of ageing argues that the first person to live to 1,000 could already be alive.
He argued: “The compulsion… that most people have to put ageing out of their minds ultimately manifests itself as a need to maintain some kind of emotional distance from the question of whether we can do anything about ageing.
“The kind of trivialisation that comes from using words like 'immortality', that kind of separate this from the language that we would normally use about technological feasible things... that terminology sells papers and that’s why it’s used all the time but it absolutely does do huge damage because at the end of the day, we do need people to be emotionally invested in this [boosting life expectancies] in order to get the job done as fast as possible because we need people’s support.”
Something to think about in 2018: what would you invest in if you could live to 1,000?