“Most Australians use an accessible professional service to prepare their wills. For First Australians, particularly those in remote towns and communities, access to such specialised services is a barrier – and typical estate planning approaches don’t necessarily meet traditional estate planning needs,” explained Equity Trustees national manager of estate planning Stephen Hardy.
“Estate planning can help prevent burial disputes and protect customary law by ensuring clarity in how traditional objects are passed on, for example, as well as the usual things we associate wills and estate plans with – the care of children and how property is distributed,” he said.
Mr Hardy said Equity Trustees will launch a pilot later this year with the West Australian Noongar community aimed at developing a program that will support the writing of wills for Indigenous Australians.
“Around 60 per cent of the Australian population have a valid will – which means one that will be effective and legal at the time it is needed. Indications are that the percentage is much lower for First Australians,” he said.
The trustee company hopes to use the pilot to develop further core estate planning services appropriate for the wider Indigenous population.
Managing director Mick O’Brien said there was a corporate responsibility to “actively pursue reconciliation”.
National Reconciliation Week, which ended on Sunday, is also an annual opportunity to highlight what can and what needs to be done, Mr O’Brien added.
“We play a role at a corporate level with the adoption and implementation of our Reconciliation Action Plan, the many ways we build connections with Indigenous communities and serve them now, and how we share and develop access to our unique expertise to protect their wealth into the future,” he concluded.
According to the NSW government trustee and guardian service, Indigenous Australians can run into a number of problems when it comes to estate planning.
Different family structures and approaches to kinship, the approach to Aboriginal “county” in burials as well as dubious funeral insurance conditions can cause contention.
Similarly, misconceptions about how much property was needed to necessitate a will as well as beliefs that a will would pass on both property and debt.
Customary law, while respected and acknowledged among some Indigenous communities, are also passed along by word of mouth and may not be codified.
This means customary law around property, ritual objects and secret knowledge also raise questions for traditional estate planning.
As the corporate regulator recently noted, understanding of superannuation is also a challenge among some Indigenous communities. However, the NSW government trustee service noted, “This is hardly surprising as much of the general population is in the same position.”