Alex O'Brien

Planning ahead checklist: have you ticked all of the boxes?

Planning ahead checklist: have you ticked all of the boxes?

There can be a lot of things to consider when getting your affairs in order, so here’s a handy checklist to make the process easy.

Planning ahead can be an intensive exercise. Not only do you have to try and unearth all of your financial documents, but you have to sign a handful of legal documents and make some important decisions. Many people like to put it off for another day but the danger in doing this is if something was to happen to you, your family could be tied up in legal and financial costs trying to find a way to secure your assets. As with anything we’d rather put off, the sooner it’s done, the better. To help make the process as smooth (and painless) as possible, here’s a checklist of what you need to have in order.

1. Prepare a will. If you’ve already done this, great! If not, it’s time to get it sorted. This legal document will clearly set out where to distribute your assets when you’re no longer here. It is usually best to get professional assistance to prepare your will. Some public trustee services, which are found in each State and Territory, may not charge a fee to prepare or update a will but only if and when they act as the executor of your will. If you’re over 60 or a pensioner, you may be exempt from charges when going through a public trustee. Double check with the public trustee in your State or Territory.

2. Nominate your superannuation beneficiaries. One of the things that a will does not cover is your superannuation. If you don’t nominate who you’d like your super to go to, your fund’s trustee will do it for you. While they are obliged to act in your best interests, who they think should receive your super may be different to who you want to give it to. There are a couple of different ways to make a nomination but if you want to make sure, complete a binding death benefit nomination. This will tell the super fund trustee exactly which of your dependants you want your super to go or you can allocate it to your estate, in which case your executors will distribute your super according to your will.

3. Appoint trustworthy people to make decisions on your behalf. It can be very handy to appoint an enduring attorney and an enduring guardian. While you may be fit and healthy now, it’s important to plan for whatever the future may bring – good or bad. Be prepared, put your plans in place and your mind will rest easier knowing someone has your back if things go pear-shaped.

4. Funeral plans. Have you been paying funeral bonds or insurance that your family should know about? Many people purchase pre-paid funeral plans but if their family doesn’t know about it, how can they use it? When you sit down with your family to discuss your future plans, let them know about any funeral preparations that you have made. And, remember to keep any documentation for any pre-paid plan or insurance in an important documents folder.

5. Get your finances sorted. Do you have bank accounts all over the place? What about investments in shares and property? Take the opportunity now to get all of your finances in order. Not only is this a great thing for you in the short term, it’s even better in the long term. Think about consolidating accounts, minimising any assets outside of super and put the structures in place now to ensure your beneficiaries don’t see most of their inheritance in the tax man’s hands.

6. Housing options and where to live. Will you decide to downsize to be closer to family or the beach? Or will you move into a retirement village to socialise with other retirees? While there’s a trend towards retirees staying in their family home, many still consider moving to small residences to reduce the costs of maintenance or to simply be closer to their grandchildren. Talk with your family and discuss what will be the best option for you.

7. Round up all of your important documents and put them in the one spot. Together with the documents mentioned so far, your folder should also contain any identification documents, such as your birth certificate and passport. Some of the other key documents to put in your folder include: marriage certificate, advance healthcare directive or living will, personal insurance policies, home and contents insurance, bank account details, superannuation papers, investment documents and medical insurance papers. By storing this all in the one place, perhaps in a home safe, your family will be prepared and organised.

8. Have a conversation with your partner and family. Call the family over and let them know what you’ve planned. Inform them of your decisions about what you would like to happen in the future. This is the best way to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to fulfilling your wishes. Also, remember to tell them where you store all of your documents! Many families have gone through unnecessary legal costs or stress because they weren’t told about what preparations their family member made.  

9. Consider seeing a professional to make sure everything is in order. It’s a good idea to make sure everything is in order now, not later when you may not be able to do anything about it. While you’ll need a lawyer for some of the finer details of your estate planning, particularly if you have extensive assets, or assets held in other businesses and trust, or you are considering setting up one or more testamentary trusts in your will, don’t hesitate to see them again should you be concerned or unsure of anything. 

This article is for general information only and cannot be relied on as legal advice. You should seek formal legal advice on your specific circumstances.