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On death and estate planning

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Waking up on Saturday March 5 to the news of Shane Warne’s untimely death was a shock to all of us. As we followed his cricketing career for Australia, for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL and in the commentary box, he became a permanent part of our cricketing experience for 35 years. All of this, of course, without his other well-known adventures away from the world of cricket. His death at just 52 comes after the shock disappearance of another cricketing hero Dean Jonesalso much loved in India – he died in Mumbai aged 59 in 2020.

The untimely death of the two men is a wake-up call for us to be more mindful of our health. While there is a lot of talk about lifestyle issues, perhaps one area that Indian migrants to Australia need to be mindful of is getting their wills and estate planning in order. Having the paperwork sorted to manage all your assets and liabilities ensures that you will be certain of who – in what proportion and in the most tax-efficient manner – will inherit your assets in the event of death.

While individual needs will be different, let’s look at three different scenarios: a young family, say with children under 12; a family with children who are teenagers to young adults, and finally those in their 60s or older.

While assets such as property (residential and investment) and shares are created early in the working lives of migrants here in Australia, their greatest asset will be the life insurance in their superannuation.

In the case of a young family, the wills should specify who will manage these assets and take care of the young children if the couple is no longer there: will the children and investments return to India under the care of the extended family , or will local friends intervene? As is well known, the Australian legal system rightly protects all minors, and it can take considerable time to decide who will be the best caregiver in the event of the death of the parents. Clear instructions in a legal document can make this difficult time more manageable.

Migrants with teenagers who have spent most of their young years in Australia will have a tougher time. The children will have established social networks and structures in Australia and uprooting them and relocating them to extended family overseas could be a challenge. Not only will the children come to terms with their personal loss, but they will also face the challenges of a new social environment. The legal system can further bog down the process if the parents have not expressed their will as to what should happen to their children and their property.

In the case of migrants with adult children, they must ensure that their property is passed on in a reasonable manner to their family members. Assuming heritage assets have been created, an appropriate estate plan can clarify how these should be distributed in a responsible and tax-efficient manner. Other issues of protecting the wealth of spendthrift family members may also be considered.

A simple will written by a qualified professional can cost a few thousand dollars, but can save much more in the future, with less uncertainty and confusion in the event of bereavement. You can count on the certainty it will bring, in these uncertain times.

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