Estate planning is often a difficult subject to deal with. Many people find it unpleasant to think about their own mortality, with the result that the task of estate planning is something they constantly put off, believing they can tackle it "later".
It's estimated that 45% of Australians die without a Will. This can cause havoc amongst surviving relatives who, in addition to grieving for the deceased, have to deal with complex intestacy laws and uncertainties as to how the deceased's estate will be distributed. It's common for intestate estates to cause family friction as rivalries, jealousies, or stress puts everyone on edge. This can lead to years of conflict, in addition to the expense of engaging lawyers to provide legal advice and representation if family members can't agree on the distribution of the estate.
Worse still, if you die without a will or any surviving relatives, you could find your assets given to the state government.
We believe that everyone should have a Will. A Will drafted by lawyers has added certainty that it has been drafted and executed correctly, streamlining and simplifying the process for distributing your estate after you pass away.
Two items to consider when you're (finally) doing your estate planning are how you wish to be buried, and whether you wish to be an organ donor.
Natural Earth Burials
Traditionally, most people choose to either be cremated or buried in a coffin when they pass away.
Natural earth burials are a relatively new concept in Australia, but it's slowly growing in popularity as the practice becomes more understood and cemeteries set aside land for the purpose.
Basically, a natural earth burial is the burying of a body in a biodegradable coffin or a shroud in a shallow grave (approximately one metre deep) without the use of any chemicals, to enable a more natural decomposition. Natural burials are marked with nothing other than a tree, so the exact location of a grave is registered using a Global Positioning System (GPS). The coordinates are then logged in a register. The benefits are that the body decomposes faster, there's no pollution of the soil from a coffin or the chemicals used in embalming, and less land is used.
You should provide clear instructions in your Will as to how you wish your body to be dealt with after you pass away. Although not binding on your family members, and often not seen until after the funeral, by recording your intentions in your Will you'll give some guidance to family members if they require it, as to how to deal with your remains. It's not about you (not entirely, anyway); this is to make it easier for family members when you pass away.
If you intend to donate your organs, it's essential to discuss this with your loved ones. In addition to this, you must also register with the Australian Organ Donation Register. This will allow medical staff to be able to ascertain your intentions upon arriving at hospital, as they'll be able to check your donation status from this national registry.
Your family will be consulted by the hospital if they wish for your organs to be donated. This will occur regardless of whether you've elected to be an organ donor. If your family doesn't wish for organ donation to occur, generally it won't happen because hospitals don't want to distress the family.
There's ongoing debate as to whether the wishes of your family should be taken into account if you've elected to be an organ donor. For the time being, it's your family members who will make the final decision. This is why it's particularly important that you register if you feel strongly about the issue, and discuss your decision with your family members.
Although not legally binding, by inserting your intentions into your Will you can provide guidance to your family members in case there's any uncertainty about what to do. We can't stress how important it is to discuss your intentions with your loved ones, as a Will is often not produced or read until after the funeral has already occurred.
Estate planning is easy to delay. But if you feel strongly about how you wish your remains to be dealt with, or how you want your estate distributed and your body dealt with, a properly executed Will is essential.
We especially recommend making an appointment to have your Will drafted or updated if you've recently had a major life event, such as getting married, divorced, or having children.