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Increasing COVID cases serve as a reminder to get your legal affairs in order

 

I recently came across a great article written by our friends at Attwood Marshall Lawyers, it concerns an area that we don’t often think about when reading or hearing on the news, the loss of loved ones that are related to the covid pandemic.  I felt it was worthy of sharing some of the article for you on our web site:

The recent explosion in COVID cases and spike in related deaths serve as a stark reminder to get your legal affairs in order

Article by Debbie Sage Attwood Marshall Lawyers Senior Associate in the Wills and Estates Department

“Omicron continues to reach its peak. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates Senior Associate and accredited Aged Care professional, Debbie Sage discusses why the spike of Covid cases should prompt everyone to get their affairs in order so that you can have peace of mind during these challenging times.

She also discusses what steps you need to take if you devastatingly lose a loved one to COVID.

Why it is imperative that everyone have their affairs in order

Even before the pandemic hit our shores, the message about the importance of estate planning was lost on many.

Estate planning often gets dismissed as something only the wealthy need, or the elderly. That is simply not the case. And although we received an influx of enquiries from people wanting their Wills drafted at the start of the pandemic, now more than ever it is important for everyone to know what documents they should have in place and why.

Our firm has handled a higher than average number of estates in the last 2 years where the deceased has died without a Will and it was very upsetting for families to go through the process, especially cases involving blended families)

Making your Will

A Will is an essential legal document conveying your final wishes.

It lays out how you would like your estate to be distributed in the event of your death and who you would like to appoint as your executor/s to carry out your wishes.

It may also include directions related to finances, guardianship for your minor children, and funeral wishes.

  1. Steps involved in making a Will: Initially you should arrange a consultation with an experienced Wills & Estates lawyer – either via phone, video conference or in-person – whatever is most suitable for you.
  2. During the consultation, each step of the process will be explained to you by your lawyer. Some Wills can be prepared quickly, however, this does depend on the complexity of the estate and the family situation of the individual.
  3. It is recommended to gather as much of the necessary information required to draft your Will ahead of your consultation. At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we provide all clients with a simple online questionnaire they can complete at their own pace prior to their appointment which will give their lawyer all the information required to get the process started.

Information required to draft your Will

Whilst you may not know some of the answers straight away, these are some of the questions that would be discussed during your consultation:

  • Who would you like to appoint as your Executor/s?
  • What are your assets and liabilities and how are they owned?
  • How do you want your assets distributed?
  • How do you want any assets that may not form part of your estate, such as superannuation, to be dealt with?
  • Who do you wish to appoint as Guardian/s of any children under 18?
  • Would you like to include any funeral or burial wishes in your Will?
  • Do you have any other directions you wish to document?

Once all of the necessary information has been gathered and discussed and a final decision has been made, preparation of your Will can commence.

What to do if you lose someone from COVID – estate administration will not wait

Due to Covid-19 sensitivities, the grief of families’ losing loved ones recently have heightened. The loss of a loved one can be extremely overwhelming.  Particularly if you are also the one responsible for their financial affairs, actioning their Will and organising their funeral. There is also the grim task of dealing with the hospital or nursing home and arranging for the body of your lost loved one to be collected by a funeral home.

As Omicron runs rampant throughout our society, it is understandable that executors of estates would need more time to deal with matters. However, the administration of deceased estates and dealing with the funeral home, providing information for the death certificate, and arranging the funeral cannot be put on hold waiting for the COVID-19 crisis to ease.

If you are an administrator or executor, there are real risks of not meeting legal deadlines and leaving the estate more vulnerable to being challenged by a family member or other interested party.

Following the funeral, the role of an executor includes:

  • Locating the original Will.
  • Dealing with general tasks, for example, redirecting mail, cancelling services, or arranging for pets to be cared for.
  • Administering the estate, which may involve obtaining a Grant of Probate if required.
  • Collecting the Estate assets, looking after them for the beneficiaries’ benefit, and notifying the beneficiaries.
  • Ascertaining the deceased’s debts or liabilities if they have them and if so, arranging payment from the estate’s assets.
  • Recording, accounting, distributing, and paying the estate’s assets and liabilities.
  • Seeking advice from an Accountant regarding any potential tax liability or whether any personal or estate tax returns are required.
  • Once all debts are paid, distributing the remaining assets in accordance with the terms of the Will.

The responsibility of an executor can be overwhelming and may prove complex for those with little legal or business knowledge. Administering an estate generally takes at least 6 months and can be time-consuming, coupled with the fact you are grieving and managing your own affairs. It can be quite an onerous task.

If you are an executor or administrator of an estate, it is important to allow yourself time to grieve as well as taking the necessary time to make the right decisions for you, your family, your loved ones, and the deceased.  Remember that you do not have to do everything by yourself. By getting the support of an estate administration lawyer, you can have guidance throughout the process and ensure you are meeting your obligations.

Arranging payment of the funeral account

The funeral can generally be paid for from the estate. The bank can release funds from the estate to cover funeral costs while the account is frozen. This can be paid to the executor, estate administrator or person who organised and paid for the funeral. To have the funeral account paid, the executor/administrator will need to provide an invoice or receipt for the funeral service to the bank.

If you organise a funeral service directly after your loved one has passed, the funeral provider will generally require services to be paid upfront, which will likely be before the estate is released. This is because most providers require an upfront payment before the service. However, direct cremation is invoiced at the end of the service process, which means payment is not required until after the cremation has taken place.

Your loved one may have already pre-planned for their funeral. If this is the case, contact the funeral provider to engage their services if a prepaid funeral has been arranged. If the deceased had a Funeral Bond or Funeral Insurance, get in contact with the company to organise the release of funds for the cost of the funeral. If previous arrangements were not made, the executor or senior next of kin has the authority to make funeral arrangements.

If you need advice on estate administration or estate planning, please call our friendly Wills and Estates team anytime on 1800 621 071. Alternatively, you can contact Wills and Estates Department Manager Donna Tolley directly on 07 5506 8241, mobile 0423 772 555 or email dtolley@attwoodmarshall.com.au or book online to make an appointment.

If you would like to read the entire article please visit Attwood Marshall Lawyers

“Article republished with permission from Attwood Marshall Lawyers”

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