With the ever changing COVID-19 situation we’re experiencing, words like unprecedented and uncertainty are cropping up more frequently in what we read, hear and talk about. A sense of being unprepared is something many people are likely to be feeling currently. Ravi Malhotra, Head of Business Development for Private Client Services at Australian Executor Trustees Limited, explains how to broach the subject of estate planning with advice clients who may be experiencing high levels of anxiety about their health, family and future.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis for both public health and the economy. It’s a double whammy for clients, who have ample cause for concern about wealth and wellbeing, both for themselves and those they wish to protect. Having estate planning documents in order should be a high priority for all clients but particularly those over age 60 or with underlying respiratory and heart conditions or diabetes.
However, acknowledging our greatest fears about the future can be hard, even when we all have reason to feel afraid. One of the best ways to feel less anxious is to take back control where we can. A conversation about estate planning can help clients do this by reminding them that what happens to their wealth in the event of their death or loss of capacity is still within their control.
To get things started, you can talk to clients about the peace of mind that comes with taking positive action for people they care about. Then you can move on to these ten talking points to guide your client through their options and the next steps involved:
- Has their Will been drawn up by a lawyer?
If not, speak with your client about problems that often come with DIY Wills. Common pitfalls include ambiguous language and incorrect execution – not having the Will signed and witnessed in accordance with the strict legal requirements. Issues like these can invalidate the document altogether.
- Have there been significant changes in the family?
Births, deaths, marriages, divorces or alternatively changes to asset ownership could result in the need to amend or update their Will.
- Is their executor up to the task and prepared to take on this important role?
If two or more executors are involved, could this lead to conflict or issues with carrying out instructions in their Will? Ask them to consider having a contingency in place in case their executor should die before they do or is unable or unwilling to act.
- Have they appointed guardians for minor children?
If so, are the guardians aware of their potential role and will the estate provide the means for guardians to provide for the children?
- Does their Will include clauses to protect vulnerable beneficiaries? Trust structures such as testamentary trusts can be used to protect vulnerable beneficiaries such as those with an intellectual disability or an addiction, or alternatively be used to minimise the prospect of assets being lost to future events such as bankruptcy or divorce
- Have they made their beneficiary nominations for superannuation and insurance policies? As your client’s super death benefit will not automatically be paid to their estate, it’s important to help your client look at options and make arrangements with their super fund and insurance provider.
- Is your client a director or trustee of any companies or trusts? As with super and insurance, assets in company or trust structures don’t automatically get distributed in accordance with their Will. These assets should be considered and included as part of the overall estate planning strategy.
- Has their estate plan been structured in a tax-effective way? Testamentary trusts may need to be considered as part of a tax-effective strategy for a client’s Will.
- Do they have an enduring power of attorney in place? If they are incapacitated due to the symptoms of coronavirus or any other health event, the person (or people) appointed as their power of attorney is authorised to handle their legal and financial affairs.
- Do they have an enduring power of guardianship or advance care directive in place? Unfortunately, family members across the world are finding themselves unable to answer critical questions regarding healthcare treatments for loved ones due to strict isolation protocols for COVID-19 patients. An advance care directive explains your preferences for treatment to an attending medical team if you should be incapacitated. This is even more important now that medical facilities and equipment supplies are under pressure from the severe impact of this global pandemic.
You can also suggest to your clients that they share with family and beneficiaries select details and contacts of their estate plan. This can make it easier for their power of attorney and/or executor to act swiftly if your client is unable to manage their affairs due to illness or in the event of their death.
We’re here to help
At Australian Executor Trustees, we’re here to support you by providing quality advice and services to your clients for all their estate planning needs. As people across the country self-isolate or enact social distancing protocols to curb the spread of coronavirus, we are still here to serve your business and clients using suitable technologies to enable a new way of working.
We continue to provide your clients with a comprehensive and personalised estate planning solution, bringing them peace of mind at a challenging time.
To find out more or if you have any questions, please speak to our team of experienced estate planning lawyers and assistants – call 1800 882 218.