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Top tips for drafting wills for blended families

Top tips for drafting wills for blended families


Drafting wills for blended families comes with its own unique challenges. Practitioners are faced with finding practical solutions for clients that not only ensure family relationships are kept intact, but also work from a tax perspective, a means-tested pension perspective and often from a family business point of view as well. We asked Allan Swan, Director of Estate Planning Equation and author of CCH service Australian Estate Planning, his top tips for drafting wills for blended families.

Be alert to the potential for conflict

It’s important to remember that you are dealing with blended families and appreciate the potential for conflict. You might meet a couple who appear to be very much in tune with each other but under the surface there could be conflicting agendas. Each person may have their own children or family that they're close to and who are important to them. Often there are issues of where different families sit in terms of priority, who is going to have control of the assets and so on. Consider what would happen if one of the couple dies – will the other person change their mind? The potential for conflict is significant and sometimes this means you might have to act for just one of the couple, not for both.

Question clients trying to rule from the grave

Some clients are keen to rule from the grave. They may try to lock people into the world of 2017 when their wills are going to run in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time. In doing this we may be locking people into the past and getting stuck with old fashioned tax laws or old circumstances that don't really fit with what the future circumstances might be. Sometimes it's important to query a client's propensity to rule from the grave – check this is what they want to do and ensure they understand the potential consequences.

Try to come up with solutions that minimise the potential for disputes

The more you do life interests, and the more you do rights to use and rights to occupy, the more propensity you've got for disputes to arise after the connecting person has gone. You could end up with disputes between the stepdad and the stepchild because of the way documents have been drafted and the fact that use has to be shared, or that you've got to wait until a step mum dies before you can get hold of the assets. Where possible segregate things – for example have one person get 30% and the other 70%. You often find that leads to a much happier family down the track than the blended situation.

Remember relationships can fall apart

It's not only the blended families that can come apart in the future but also the beneficiaries, like the kids or the person who re-partners after the other dies. Relationships might come under stress and could come apart. Appreciating this and trying to minimise the financial impact is an important issue.

Keep an eye out for vulnerable family members

You will find in many families there are family members who are quite vulnerable. They may not handle finances well or may not have the capacity to handle finances at all. There can also be family members who are easily exploited by other people. It's important to get a realistic assessment of what people's capacity is and their vulnerability.

Recognise the limitations of a will

A will is often a very important document but recognise it might not be the right document for all situations. For example it may not be the right document when we’re talking about a joint tenancy or a family trust or superannuation.

Want to learn more about drafting complex wills including drafting wills for blended families? Come along to Allan Swan’s Will Drafting Masterclass 27 August 2017 and learn the key skills required to draft complex wills, as well as practical solutions to help achieve your client’s aims and minimise the risk of conflict in the future.

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