A bizarre and tragic case in Queensland has demonstrated why estate planning is such a complex issue, after the courts accepted a voice message left on a phone to be a man’s legal will – carving up his $1.6m estate in the process.
In the case, the court heard that a man left a voice message to a friend, describing his final wishes, before tragically taking his own life.
The phone message was simple; all the man’s assets should go to his wife, and any money from his life insurance policies was to be divided equally among his children.
According to the courts, the message met all the requirements constituting a legal will and replaced the man’s previous will, written by a lawyer in 2011.
There’s no doubt the entire scenario is a terrible tragedy. But to some, there might be comfort in knowing there’s a way of protecting your family’s assets in such a simple, effective manner as a phone message.
This is something I can sympathise with. At its very heart, that’s what estate law is all about; protecting assets and ensuring your children or other beneficiaries don’t lose out when it comes to passing on your wealth after you die.
Obviously, the circumstances in this case are extreme, but as an estate lawyer I would always caution against trying to use last minute messages, letters, emails, recordings or otherwise to try and “set things right” before your time comes.
Because the human – and very understandable – desire for simplicity in matters of estates and inheritance can often work against your wishes.
Any good estate lawyer, when planning your will, should be thorough in investigating your personal circumstances. They’ll look at your debts, your assets, and try to balance your wishes against your taxation obligations, debts and the likelihood that someone will try to challenge your Will.
Depending on your circumstances, a good lawyer will then suggest various strategies, from the creation of testamentary trusts after your death to a major restructure of your affairs while you’re still alive, to achieve your final wishes.
This can all be undone by a last-minute message or email to someone, expressing a desire to set things right or make a small bequest, as this could constitute a new will that revokes your carefully executed estate plan.
If you are thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis, help is available. No one needs to face their problems alone. Phone Life Line on 131114.