A number of investigators recently published an interesting report, Having the Last Word? Will making and contestation in Australia.
The report discusses findings from five major research studies, including:
- telephone interviews with 2,405 adults;
- a review of 215 cases involving estate disputes;
- a review of Public Trustee files involving disputes;
- an online survey of practitioners who draft wills; and
- several dozen in-depth group interviews.
I enjoy reading reports of this nature, because it provides practitioners with an opportunity to get a birds-eye view of will making and contestation patterns. It's impossible for a practitioner to get this perspective, no matter how experienced.
Some noteworthy points were:
- Most (59%) Australians have a will. This figure is much higher than many other publications suggest - most commonly I see the figures 40% to 50%.
One nuance which is often ignored but that this report clearly notes is that age plays a large part with respect to whether someone has a will or not. For people aged 70 and over, 93% have a will, whereas only 35% of people under 30 with a financial dependant had a will. (I imagine the figure is even lower for under 30s without financial dependents.)
Also, "Not all wills reflect current intentions and/or circumstances". For example, I could say that I do indeed have a will. But it might have been drafted 25 years ago and be completely divorced from my current circumstances and wishes. So 59% doesn't translates to 41% of people needing wills - the percentage of people who need new wills is likely to be much higher.
- "Wills are primarily used to distribute assets. Having a will to nominate guardians, choose executors, and/or clarify funeral arrangements is undervalued." The report spends some time discussing this important point.
Although you could argue that from a strictly legal sense, the purpose of a will is primarily to distribute assets, estate planning is most effective when it's considered from a broader perspective. Think: values rather than valuables.
- The majority of wills provide for equal shares for children - without regard to distributions to children throughout the course of their lives. This is an interesting point and is worthy of reflection.
- Only a small number of people go the DIY route for preparing wills. 11% of people with wills used a will kit (whether hard copy or online), and 5% drew up the documents themselves.
- The "average" procrastinator (ie, person who knows they should prepare a will but hasn't yet done so) is aged around 40, has one or more financial dependents, and possesses an estate valued at less than $500,000.
The report has a number of findings, and I recommend that interested people read the entire report.