Beyond the will: Getting all your affairs in order

14 April 2015

Susan Rix AM , Partner, Business Services |

Perhaps you think of end-of-life matters as something the elderly need to worry about. Maybe you've just been too busy with other responsibilities to get around to it. Whatever your reason, if you don't have all of your affairs in order, you're not alone - nearly half (45 per cent) of Australian adults don't have a will, according to NSW Trustee & Guardian. 

The unfortunate reality is that death can come to any of us, at any point in our lives. If we don't have our affairs in order, our loved ones and the executors of our estates face challenges sorting out all of the details and arrangements, not to mention the fact that our wishes may very well go unfulfilled.  

Preparing for the unexpected

Even if you do have a comprehensive will in place, there are likely peripheral considerations the document doesn't cover - and these elements are equally important to put into place ahead of time.

From information that will assist your family and executor in making arrangements immediately following your death to the ongoing management of your estate, key stakeholders need to know what your wishes are and where to find critical documents. 

The elements you need to think about can fit into several categories: 

  • Personal: From the hymns you want to play at your funeral service to social media accounts and memberships that need to be cancelled, you'll need to lay out details that are important to you and provide login information for your survivors to close your profiles.
  • Financial: If you have insurance to cover the cost of your burial, for instance, you'll want to make this known to your executors or family and make sure they know where to find policy information.
  • Material: Your assets include large inheritances and estates, as well as those minor possessions you might not include in a will. For instance, you may want to bestow a sentimental item on one of your grandchildren, or perhaps you have frequent flier miles you can transfer before you pass away.
  • Business: In addition to arranging for transfer of ownership, you should have a clear succession plan in place to ensure day-to-day operations can continue smoothly.

It's often overwhelming to try to take into account all of these factors. To make the process easier, you can use resources such as BDO’s Family Business Personal Information Register to help you take a more systematic approach. At BDO, we assist clients as they fill out this document, which serves as a guide for collating the necessary details. By starting this process early on, you'll be able to update it as you go through life.

A pressing matter   

Collecting this information has always been an important step, but there are several factors that make it all the more urgent today.

For starters, more Australian adults are living alone or aren’t been in long-term relationships. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the crude marriage rate decreased from 6.9 to 5.4 marriages per 1000 residents in the two decades between 1990 and 2010. People are also getting married later in life, with the median age for both men and women increasing by more than three years over the same time period.

These factors mean Australians are less likely to have a spouse or partner who knows their wishes and can locate the essential documents.

Furthermore, the baby boomer generation typically has larger assets and fewer descendants than previous demographic groups. This means the stakes are higher for inheritances, causing a growth in litigation cases. Not only do legal measures carry heavy fees, such struggles can have a significant emotional impact on a family - sometimes permanently impacting relationships. 

Finally, with Australia's population ageing, an increasing number of people are developing dementia. Although people are living longer, they sometimes reach a point where they can't communicate their wishes. That's why it's critical to address these matters early on in life, well before such factors come into play. 

It's never pleasant to think about death - whether our own or our loved ones' - but sitting down and working out these details can bring great peace of mind. Taking a systematic approach may make the process less daunting, while giving you the tools you need to keep your information up to date. After all, such matters should never be an insurmountable burden for you or your family.