It’s easy to think that if you have a will, your estate planning or succession strategy is sorted out and there’s nothing further that needs to be done.

In a small minority of cases, this might be true. But in most cases, a will is only one part of what will determine how the assets you own and control will be distributed when you pass away.

In a lot of cases, a will may be a minor, or negligible part, of a succession strategy.

Imagine that you are nearing the end of your professional career. You’ve done quite well, and you’re looking forward to a comfortable retirement. You have accumulated a significant superannuation balance. You still have some life insurance in place. You and your spouse own your home. You have a family discretionary trust.

If you were to pass away tomorrow, it’s possible that your will would have very little impact on how the assets you’ve accumulated over your lifetime would be distributed. You may have made a binding death benefit nomination in relation to your superannuation monies, or the trustees of your superannuation fund may have discretion in relation to how to distribute your superannuation funds. You may have nominated a specific beneficiary for the proceeds from your life insurance policy. If you and your spouse own your home as joint tenants, your spouse will automatically receive full ownership of the home. Assets held in your discretionary trust are not technically “yours” and control of these assets are likely to be determined by the terms of the trust deed (and other documents such as the company constitution if assets are held by a corporate trustee) rather than your will.

Even people with less complicated arrangements would find, upon a deeper consideration of their circumstances, that many of their assets would not be distributed according to the terms of their will.

In short, if you want to ensure that your hand-earned assets are distributed in the way you’d like, you need to take a much broader view than thinking simply in terms of your will. For a quality estate plan or succession strategy, a will is only be one part of the equation.

There are various factors that can influence whether an asset should constitute part of your estate (and be influenced by the terms of your will) or not. Depending on your circumstances, you might have very good reasons for not wanting your assets to form part of your estate. On the flipside, you might have good reasons for wanting them to be part of your estate and distributed according to your will. A considered estate plan or succession strategy that is developed in conjunction with a knowledgeable professional or team of professionals will consider all of these factors.

Sonnie Bailey

Sonnie is an Authorised Financial Adviser (AFA) and former lawyer with experience in the financial services and trustee industries. Sonnie operates Fairhaven Wealth (www.fairhavenwealth.co.nz).