As a Wills & Estates lawyer in my early 30s, I often get asked “but surely I am too young to need a Will?” This perception seems to be based on two things; firstly, the idea that they “don’t have any stuff,” and secondly, that many of them don’t have a spouse or kids.
After a little prodding, the claim that they “don’t have any stuff” usually results in the definition of “stuff” being a house, or something like a decent savings account. This likely comes from traditional ideas about wealth held by our parents, but just because you don’t have a lot of “stuff” doesn’t mean you don’t have any.
Superannuation is an important example of “stuff.” Since 1992 in Australia, it has been mandatory for employers to make contributions into a super fund on their employees’ behalf. This means people of my generation have been steadily accruing superannuation for all of their working life, and if you started working at 16 or so, this may now be a significant amount.
However, superannuation does not automatically form part of your ‘Estate’, which is the legal term for your “stuff” that is covered by your Will. Under the relevant legislation, after your death your superannuation can only be paid to people who had a relationship of dependency or interdependency with you during your lifetime, and if you don’t have a spouse or kids, there’s a good chance you don’t have anyone who fits this definition.
So where does your superannuation go if you don’t have any dependents? Your Estate! This means that, in these circumstances, if you want any say in where your superannuation goes after you die (that is, to other family or friends), you need a Will.
Let’s say that your “stuff” doesn’t have much monetary value, but what about sentimental value? Under your Will, you can leave specific items to specific people. Maybe you have a collection of Pokémon cards or comic books that your younger brother used to love, so if anything were to happen to you, it would mean a lot to your younger brother to receive these special items. Or maybe you have an original set of Harry Potter books from your childhood, and now you have a young stepsister that you want to have these books if you were to pass away unexpectedly.
To understand the benefits of having specific gifts like these in your Will, let’s think about what happens if you die without a Will.
This is known as an ‘intestacy’, and because you have not detailed your specific wishes via a Will, your Estate is managed and distributed through legislative provisions. There is a hierarchy of who can be appointed to manage your Estate and who will receive its contents, but if you don’t have a spouse/partner or children, the next in line are your parents. If your mother is anything like mine, “stuff” like Pokémon cards, comic books, or Harry Potter books could very well end up in the bin or donated to Vinnies.
You may not have anyone that you need to support from your Estate when you’re gone, but you may very well have “sentimental stuff” that’s important to you and other people in your life.
Other considerations: Strained relationships
The hierarchy of distributions under intestacy legislation is designed to pass your “stuff” to the people who generally would be the most appropriate to receive it, but it can’t take into consideration the specifics of individual circumstances and relationships.
In the circumstances referenced above where your parents are the appropriate people to receive your Estate, assuming they are both still alive your Estate is divided equally between them. But what if your parents split up when you were young and you don’t have a relationship with one of them? Alternatively, if both of your parents died before you did, the next in line are your siblings, and the same issues may apply. You may have no relationship with one or more of your siblings while you remain close with others, or it may be simply that you are closer with some siblings than others. In the event that you’re an only child and your parents have both passed, your grandparents are next in line, and the hierarchy continues to more distant relatives after that.
Whatever the reason may be, it’s understandable to have a preference where certain items or proportions of your Estate go. This is easily achieved through a Will, but is unlikely to happen without one.
So are you too young to need a Will?
If you want any say in what happens to your “stuff” after you die, the answer to this question is clearly a resounding no. The only people too young to need a Will are under 18, and this is only because Wills made by minors are not valid.
At Burke & Associates, we can provide advice tailored to your needs to make sure that your “stuff,” whatever it may be, goes to the right people. For more information, or to make an appointment with our Wills & Estates Division, please contact Rohani Bixler, Luke Palmer or Helen Andreou.
Insight written by Luke Palmer