Estate Planning – When Should I Start Talking to an Accountant?

Couple thinking about their estate planning in older age


Estate Planning FAQs

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning ensures your wealth is efficiently transferred in accordance with your wishes. A well-defined plan for your wealth will reduce the strain on your loved ones at the time of your passing, and peace of mind about the future. An estate plan centers around a will, but ideally it extends to all the essential elements of your legacy, including naming guardians for dependents, limiting estate taxes, charitable donations, naming beneficiaries and setting up powers of attorney


I already have a will, so why should I do estate planning?

While a will may specify aspect of who inherits what, successful estate planning ensures how wealth is transferred to ensure it happens correctly with minimal regulatory disruption or loses (i.e. taxation and other financial legalities). An estate plan designed to ensure your loved ones or other beneficiaries of your choosing receive their due, minimize and handle taxation and preserve your intentions for how your wealth is dispensed, and that your liabilities (bills, mortgage repayments etc) are well managed to preserve your estate’s assets transferred to your heirs or sold off. It goes beyond just dispensing your wealth, but reduces family conflicts, alleviates mental stress, and gives assurance that your loved ones will be taken care of once you are gone. It also protects your heirs from financial trouble associated with inheritance.

Your wealth was likely hard won and required work to preserve to hand on. Estate planning helps that legacy live on when it’s your time to pass the baton.


Why should I engage an accountant for my estate plan?

There is no rule that says you can’t do your own Estate Planning. It depends on your legal skill level, commercial knowledge and ability to facilitate and manage the members of your family and your businesses.  We have clients who have all of those abilities. Interestingly though, most of those smart clients are the ones that ask for the most estate planning advice.  It is almost as if “… the more you know, the more it is that you realise you do not know”.

It is possible to do your own estate plan but usually not advisable as you are too close to the situation. It is kind of like a Dr not treating their own family members. An individuals bias may cause them to not look at the entire picture with the right perspective and thus make judgements that lead to unintended outcomes.

What is the difference between estate planning and financial planning?

Financial planners tend to deal with, and make recommendations on, investments in passive assets (such as shares in publicly listed companies / trusts, property, cash and bonds). Estate planning deals with all of the assets or all of the wealth (i.e. active businesses, homes, superannuation fund entitlements, and investments in passive shares and the like). Unless they hold an FSL license, an estate planner is not going to give a specific investment recommendation.

With purer estate planning you don’t advise on what to invest in. The lines can get blurred after death as the estate plan starts to get implemented and financial planners inevitably get involved with trustees and executors.

Does this include my superannuation?

Superannuation benefits do not form part of your deceased estate.  Thus, upon your death, the trustee of a superannuation fund must decide how to disburse your entitlements in the Fund.  The payment of any benefit by the trustee in respect of a deceased member is known as a death benefit payment.

While the superannuation law allows the trustee to decide on death benefit payments, the trustee powers are further governed by the fund’s trust deed.  Many funds have deeds that allow members to elect where their death benefits are to be paid.  The options available and method of nomination depends upon the specific deed of each fund.  For more information please see our articled on death benefit nominations.

Otherwise the trustee of your super (usually a member of the superfund) will have power to distribute your superannuation at their own discretion.


When do I need to update my estate plan?

It’s a good idea to periodically review your estate plan to ensure key details are current. You should update your estate plan if there have been changes to details of listed agents, new family members, marital status changes, business interests, significant shifts in asset volume or change of insurance providers.

An accountant’s final thoughts on successful Estate Planning

Getting your affairs in order looking after the people you care about most when you’re no longer able to. It often gets put off for more urgent things, however good planning significantly benefits your loved ones latter down the track. Our estate planning specialists will ensure your wealth is well structured and secure. Please contact our Estate Planning Specialist Partners Lauren Steinheuer and Dean Vane for a free consultation.


Lauren Steinheuer:

Dean Vane:

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