Mistakes and misunderstandings on will documents are costing clients half, or more, of their estate. Anna Hacker, Equity Trustees estate planning senior manager, says many of the wills she sees aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of litigation where half or more of the estate just goes on legal fees…people just want to fight, usually on the principle… the cost then diminishes the estate so much that no one wins in the end – except the lawyers unfortunately.”
A big problem is that clients don’t understand ownership of assets, says Hacker, even after advisers have tried to explain it. They might try to leave something that is owned by a trust, or shares that they think are in their name but are actually in their super fund.
“I had a situation where someone said in their will ‘I give all my super to my sister, and then I give everything else to my de facto’. Well for one, you can’t give your super to your sister so that created a bit of an issue. They didn’t do a binding death benefit nomination so the Trustee got to decide where the super went – of course they sent it to the de facto, because she was a dependent – so the de facto received all super and everything else in the estate.
“That issue could’ve been so easily prevented by them getting advice and they just had to give everything else to the sister and just the super to the de facto.”
Hacker says advisers need to ask more than ‘do you have a will?’. Understanding a little bit more about the formalities of a will could enable advisers to save their clients valuable money. “If you’re the one that’s pointed out there could be issues with this will, you’ll be the hero in the eyes of the client, so that’s really an important place a planner should be.”
She says that seeing a will kit should be a trigger point for advisers to ask more. Clients with multiple beneficiaries or vulnerable beneficiaries should also have a special will, because assets probably shouldn’t be spread equally, says Hacker.
She says that being involved in the estate planning allows planners to have more opportunity to talk about the children and family, and this will help them to tap into the next generation of client, too.