Wills vs Estate Planning: Tips and tricks

By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail

Benjamin Franklin

On 13 October 2021 our latest CPD webinar, “Wills vs Estate Planning: Tips and Tricks”, was presented via Zoom by our President, Michele Davis. An informative overview of wills and estates law practice, packed with both technical and practice guidance, this webinar proved to be a “must-listen” for legal professionals across the board – from early career lawyers, through to seasoned professionals.

Michele Davis is our resident, self-proclaimed succession law nerd. Michele has over 10 years of practical experience, specialising exclusively in wills and estates law and has completed postgraduate studies in wills and estates law. She now teaches and leads in both the Masters of Wills & Estates and Estate Planning at the College of Law.

The webinar highlighted the difficulties associated with commodification and digitalisation of wills (such as will kits, and online wills), and the associated traps and complexities. Thankfully, Michele was able to share some helpful “tips and tricks” to guide us through some of the challenges that arise.

There were three key “Tips and Tricks” to be taken away from the webinar, and which were particularly useful for those who may not be familiar with wills and estates law practice. These were:

1. The importance of understanding that ‘wills’ and ‘estate planning’ are separate services and not interchangeable terms.

Please see the table below for a detailed comparison.

2. That we should all be advising our client’s of the importance of having a plan: “By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

Michele shared the “all-too-common” story of the client who claims to not care about having a will or estate plan in place, because once they pass ‘they won’t care, because they will be dead!’

It is important for practitioners and clients to understand that engaging in wills or estate planning is all about preparing and equipping the client’s family with the tools to manage their affairs once they are gone. Michele discussed how losing a loved one can be hard enough, without adding further complexities for the family that come without a will and an estate plan in place. This includes: applying for letters of administration, carrying on a business or worrying about what the client intended to do with family heirlooms.

3. The importance of recognising that a will is rarely simple and it is best to refer the work to a specialist

In this webinar, Michele shared her experience that in practice, a will is rarely ever ‘simple’ and can easily be complicated by a range of factors, including, but not limited, to:

  • Assets that do and do not form part of the estate;
  • Vulnerable beneficiaries;
  • Testamentary trusts; and
  • Superannuation.

Michele warned of the risks to practitioners of treating wills as a ‘simple’ service which can be ‘tacked on’ to the advice they are already providing in another area of law and that there are often hidden complexities requiring specialised advice.

It is vital that lawyers take great scrutiny in preparing a will, by undertaking a detailed review of the client’s family and financial background. This can include (but is not limited to) a review of the client’s family tree and any business structures the client may own or be involved in (such as companies or trusts), any holdings and/or superannuation documentation to ensure that any advice provided is personalised and that clients are fully informed of any risks.

Wills and estates law practice is a highly interesting, thought-provoking and complex area of law. We are thankful to Michele for presenting on this topic and imparting her years of study, practical experience, knowledge and wisdom with us.

Here at the Logan and Scenic Rim Law Association Inc, it is part of our mission to encourage, support and contribute to the sharing of knowledge and professional development among members. That is why since our inception, we have made legal education a core part of our offering to our members. We are pleased and excited to let you know there will be more CPD webinar events to come in future.

If you missed the event, or if you were there but want to listen again, have no fear because we have recorded the whole event especially for our members! If you’re already a member, click here to request a copy. If you’re not a member, what are you waiting for?! Sign up today to take advantage of our great resources, events and friendly group!

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