Just over half of Australian adults do not have a will


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There is nothing like a headline about wills to get me frothing.

And a headline late last year from research done by comparison site Finder certainly did that: "10 million Australians don't have a will" is pretty dramatic.

This, by the way, does not include most people under 18, for the pretty good reason that you have to be over 18 to have one. The exceptions are that if a person under 18 is married, the will is made in contemplation of marriage or it is court approved.

wills estate planning

This is hardly likely to add up to a big number, so the "10 million" people will be nearly all over 18. This means that slightly over 50% of adults still do not have a will. The aggravating thing about this is that I, and many others, have been banging on for decades about making sure you have a will.

I do realise we all think we are highly unlikely to die in the short term and that we'll get around to it before we depart the planet, but here the Finder research did add to my knowledge. Their research found that only 4% don't want one. I am not unhappy about this strong no-will position.

While I disagree, at least these people have made a black and white choice. Another 14% reckon they don't have enough assets.

Now this is fair enough. If you have nothing, you have nothing. But what I do ask is that you consider things like insurance inside or outside super as this could be an asset, a potential inheritance and so on.

Then we get to the 34% who "haven't got around to it yet". So we have about seven million adults wandering around without a will. Here I have bad news, folks. Quite a few of the 34% will die in any given year. Without a valid will this can lead to financial chaos.

There is some good news, though. According to Finder, nearly 80% of baby boomers have a will, and 20% of Gen Y.

Hardly surprisingly, Gen Z are the will duds, but they are the youngest group. I was quite pleased with the near to 80% of baby boomers now having a will as that is actually a bit of an improvement. But could the other 20% please go and do something about it?

What the research did not cover is how many of us have a will that accurately reflects our current situation. It is most certainly a pain, and not an inexpensive exercise, to renew your will.

My wife and I went through this process recently as we now have grown-up kids aged 24 to 31. We dragged them along to the meeting with our solicitor and, if nothing else, it certainly drew their attention to the fact we would lose the plot or die at some time in the future.

It also let us talk about our powers of attorney, enduring guardianship and our wishes in terms of medical intervention.

We also had a good chat about our DIY super fund, which is all very well and good while Vicki and I have the capacity to do it ourselves.

But what happens when we lose the capability to manage the fund?

A real positive here was that the kids agreed that we should have an annual meeting to discuss issues such as this. Frankly, like you, I am not sure how this will play out. Who knows what will happen to any of us, but a less complex investment strategy makes a lot of sense.

Death is not exactly on any of our lists of fun topics. When it comes to money though, if you want to have the best chance of living or dying as you choose, those closest to you should be your most likely protectors.

In nearly four decades of talking to people about money, you can't help knowing a lot of people who have died.

My observation is that those who have spent a bit of time planning and talking to those closest to them, who they will turn to in the later years, get the best results. These are not just for our own comfort. A lack of clarity can lead to some really awful fallouts in even the closest of families.

Do realise that if you have divorced and not changed your will, you may be planning to leave assets to someone you don't like. If you have married since doing your will, it is automatically revoked.

Doing a will is not a terribly time-consuming process. Sure, you can get an online kit and do it yourself. This is better than nothing. But if your affairs are complex or a fair bit of money is involved, I strongly recommend you seek advice.

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Paul Clitheroe AM is founder and editorial adviser of Money magazine. He is one of Australia's leading financial voices, responsible for bringing financial insight to Australians through personal finance books, the Money TV show, and this publication, which he established in 1999. Paul is the chair of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and is chairman of InvestSMART Financial Services. He is the chair of Financial Literacy at Macquarie University where he is also a Professor with the School of Business and Economics. Ask Paul your money question. Unfortunately Paul cannot respond to questions posted in the comments section. View our disclaimer.
Monicka Baird
September 15, 2019 7.46am

These documents I call the 'documents of protection' if done correctly with also make it less likely you will be a victim of financial or emotional elder abuse. As an elder abuse lawyer I see daily the effects of seniors who have not provided guidance to their offspring or planned for their senior years. Financial and/or emotional abuse ('Mum, who will feel so much better when you sign over your house for me to manage') devastates the individual and destroys families. Protect yourself now!