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Legal matters everyone should have sorted before they pass away

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Dying isn’t a subject you may like to think about, but it is a natural part of life.

Putting legal plans in place will ensure your loved ones have little to worry about should you pass away. They will understand exactly what your wishes are, what will happen to your assets, and how they will be financially protected. To help you get started, here are some key legal matters you may need to address.

Writing your will

A will is a legal document that states how you would like your assets to be distributed when you die. It also states the person or organisation that will be responsible for carrying out your wishes, and who will take legal guardianship of your children (if needed).1

Every adult should have a valid will, even if you’re young, healthy and single. If you don’t make a will, things may get complicated, time-consuming and expensive, with your family required to prove to the government their claims to your estate.2

You may also want to set out a testamentary trust in your will. These trusts are established to protect your assets when you die, but mostly to provide a greater level of control over the distribution of your assets to beneficiaries.3

It’s possible to write your will yourself, but it’s recommended you seek legal advice. Private trustees and solicitors usually charge a fee to do this, but it’s a small price to pay to ensure everything is valid and there are no complications. You can also prepare your will with a Public Trustee, but only if they act as the executor of your will.4

Your funeral wishes are something else you can put in your will. Letting your family know certain details, such as if you would like to be buried or cremated, or any specifics about your memorial service, will help ease the stress involved with the planning. To help with the financial burden of a funeral, you should explore Funeral Insurance too.

Already have a will? It’s crucial to regularly review and update it as your stage in life changes. For example, if you’ve been married, divorced, separated, or had children since your last will, it’s recommended you write a new one or prepare a valid and witnessed addition to amend the original will terms.2

Designate a power of attorney

While a will takes care of your wishes after you die, a power of attorney has the authority to handle your financial and legal matters if you’re alive, but unable to deal with them yourself. Powers of attorney differ depending on where you live, so you’ll need to find out detailed information from the relevant agency in your state or territory.5

There are different types of power of attorney. However, when it comes to making preparations for your death, the main ones to consider are6:

  • An enduring power of attorney

    This person makes financial and legal decisions for you if you’re incompetent or incapacitated. This type of power of attorney kicks into effect as soon as you sign the documents and lasts until you die.

  • A medical power of attorney

    This power of attorney can only make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so yourself.

Depending on your circumstances and wishes, there are other legal documents to consider too. These include6:

  • An enduring power of guardianship

    A person who has the power to choose where you live and make decisions about your medical care and lifestyle choices if you can’t do so yourself.

  • An advance healthcare directive

    Also known as a “living will”, this document details how you would like your body to be dealt with if you can’t make these decisions yourself.

When it comes to nominating powers of attorney, pick people that are trustworthy, will be on call when you need them most, and are financially well-educated. To make the process quick and easy, it’s recommended you seek legal advice.6

Get your life insurance in order

One of the most important items to get sorted is your life insurance policy. Having a valid and updated policy is the best way to make sure your loved ones get the financial support they need should something happen to you.

For example, Family Life Cover and Accidental Death & Serious Injury Cover from Real Insurance will provide financial support if you become terminally ill, pass away, or become seriously injured in an accident. Your loved ones can use the benefits to keep their life on track, cover debts and loans, and pay for daily living expenses.

It’s always a good idea to regularly review your life insurance policy to make sure your family will be properly looked after. If you have life insurance in your super fund, you should also review the nominated beneficiaries here, and make sure you fully understand the tax implications of payouts.7

Organising other important documents

It helps to have all your documents accessible and safe. These might include6:

  • Will
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce certificate
  • Citizenship papers
  • Bank and credit card information
  • CentreLink and Medicare details
  • Superannuation information
  • Insurance information
  • Passports
  • Drivers licence
  • Names, numbers and addresses of healthcare professionals
  • Medical prescriptions
  • House title/lease documents
  • Trust documents
  • Passwords, websites and other important digital information
  • Subscriptions.

If your will executor or power of attorney needs to help you or your loved ones with financial and legal matters, it makes it much easier if everything is stored in the one place. Make a master file, keep it in a safe location, and share this information with the people you’re close to.6

You’re not alone

Keep in mind you don’t have to deal with everything alone. Seeking legal and financial help is a great way to ensure your legal matters are valid and sorted.6 Once you’ve organised your affairs, you’ll have more time to focus on the things that truly matter.


References

  1. Willsaustralia.gov.au
  2. Why make a will?Legal Aid NSW
  3. Wills & powers of attorney – Testamentary trustsASIC's MoneySmart
  4. Public Trustees Australia
  5. Powers of Attorneyaustralia.gov.au
  6. Wills & powers of attorneyASIC's MoneySmart
  7. Paying superannuation death benefitsAustralian Taxation Office

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