More than half of Australians do not have a Will and of those, almost 40% have no idea what happens to their assets in the event they pass away without a Will, according to new research commissioned by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.
The research, which surveyed over 1,200 respondents nationally aged 18 years and over, found that 40% of those without a Will had thought about making one but were yet to do so, while 30% felt they didn't have anything of value to leave.
28% felt they were too young to need a will and 16% of respondents didn't have a Will because they didn't want to think about dying.
Maurice Blackburn national head of Wills and Estates Law Andrew Simpson said the results were concerning because they showed a significant lack of awareness among Australians about why a Will is important and what happens if you pass away without a Will.
"This research reflects what we hear each day – that a significant proportion of the Australian adult population don't have a Will, that those who don't have a Will are highly misinformed about why a Will is important and that many people are in the dark about what actually happens if you pass away without a Will," Mr Simpson said.
"It also confirms concerns we commonly hear that preparing a Will could be a difficult and time consuming process when in reality that is not the case, irrespective of your circumstances.
"30% of people surveyed who did not have a Will didn't believe they had anything of value to leave their loved ones. This is also a common misconception and one that fails to take into account the range of assets that may need to be dealt with when a person passes away.
"This can include things like your pets and even your digital assets, but the two biggest issues that are forgotten about are superannuation and life insurance – many people don't turn their mind to how their superannuation and life insurance are to be dealt with after death.
"Dealing with your superannuation and life insurance is an essential part of the estate planning process and goes hand in hand with the preparation of a Will.
"However of most concern is that almost 40% of people surveyed who do not have a Will have no idea what happens if they pass away without a Will, with 23% incorrectly assuming that family members or next of kin will be at liberty to decide what should happen.
"It is understandable that people assume their family can step in to deal with their affairs if they pass away unexpectedly without a Will but in most cases that's not what happens.
"Each State and Territory has laws in place that apply a set formula to decide who benefits from an estate if there is no Will.
"A lot of people are quite shocked when they realise that this is how their assets could be managed if they pass away without a Will, and it's evident that this is not how they would want their affairs dealt with if they pass away – they want control and a say on how those assets are managed and divided up.
"It's not surprising that with statistics like these, the number of disputes we see in relation to the administration of deceased estates, and superannuation death benefits, are increasing.
"Many people also incorrectly assume that because they are young, not married, don't have kids or don't own a house that they don't need a Will.
"The results show that 53% of people without a Will say they would be prompted to make a Will if they were diagnosed with a serious illness.
"Other catalysts people mention include, getting married, having children, buying a house or receiving an inheritance.
"While those results aren't surprising, what they do reinforce is that many Australians are still wrongly of the view that a Will is something only to be made at a significant point in life, rather than recognising that unfortunately a Will may be needed at any time in an adult's life and often without warning.
"There also needs to be much greater awareness that if people want choice and control over how their assets are managed when they pass away that having a Will is crucial, and that this doesn't have to be time consuming or expensive to put in place.
"We hope that this research can serve as a reminder to all Australians about why having an up-to-date Will and other key documents such as a power of attorney, a statement of wishes, a medical treatment decision maker and an advance care directive is so important, irrespective of your age or what you might own," he said.
Other important findings from the research include:
- Around ¾ of those surveyed who had a will believed it was up to date and reflected their wishes, but around 25% did not believe their will was current or couldn't say
- Of those aged 50+:
- Only 5% of respondents indicated they had a statement of wishes
- 40% had a power of attorney
- 34% had appointed someone to make their medical decisions
- 34% were aware of an advance care directive, but only 11% had one in place
The research was conducted by OmniPoll nationally with 1,287 respondents aged 18+ from 21-26 February 2019.