If you don’t have a Will you die ‘intestate’. This can cause havoc for the people you leave behind.Larissa Howard
You studied law at UON. Why?
I’ve always been interested in practical matters and numbers. I also had a keen, and probably idealistic, interest in justice and how legal systems could protect and help people. So, I combined a commerce degree and law degree. As a Novocastrian, the University of Newcastle was my first choice.
What did you learn from your work in the UK and other major cities?
Our legal system in Australia is based on English law, so it was particularly interesting to work in England and see where it began. Working for big firms in Sydney and Melbourne gave me a good appreciation of the financial services market and how it’s regulated. I gained a strong grounding in how agreements are commercially reached and settled out of court, not just inside a court.
What led you back to Newcastle?
As many young Novocastrians do, I left after university to travel the world. I was often told I would come back. I have a five year old boy and I wanted him to grow up with his cousins and enjoy the Newcastle lifestyle.
Why did you specialise in superannuation and estate planning?
Early in my career I worked with a global accounting firm in its financial services and personal services teams. Superannuation relates to both financial services and to individuals. The legal skills I have acquired to date apply easily to both areas. However, the nature of the clients is different. Superannuation clients are often large financial services firms whereas estate planning involves individuals. When I moved back to Newcastle in 2016 I started my Masters of Law in Estate Planning to gain more expertise in both areas.
How do the two intertwine and what are the key considerations?
Superannuation is a key part of an Estate Plan to accumulate wealth. It is important to consider the way that benefits from a superannuation fund are transferred into an estate – either through pensions or on death. The control of self-managed superannuation funds, including when relationships change or break down, is very important.
What are the main estate planning and wealth management tools for business people?
An up to date Will is essential. Considering the tax effective transition of control from one generation to the next is particularly important, and often isn’t dealt with by a Will alone. Separate deeds are often needed to change the control of a business or a trust. A Testamentary Trust is one asset protection tool that can keep a business or wealth within the immediate family.
What are the common pitfalls or mistakes business people make in relation to estate planning?
Not regularly reviewing an Estate Plan can result in an outcome that was never intended. What might have been appropriate for a couple without children and limited assets, is unlikely to remain appropriate for a couple with adult children or blended families, and more wealth. Not reviewing your plan after a relationship change is very problematic because you may have people whom you don’t want to be, controlling your Super or trust if you become ill or die.
What happens if you die without a will?
If you don’t have a Will you die ‘intestate’. This can cause havoc for the people you leave behind. Although there is a legal formula that determines how your estate is divided, that process can be complicated. At a time when the people you leave behind are trying to grieve, they end up dealing with an arduous court process and increased legal fees.
What are some recent changes in superannuation?
Very significantly, the amount of money people can accumulate in a tax efficient way within superannuation has been capped. For money under the cap, superannuation is still a very useful wealth management tool, but for savings over that cap other ways of holding wealth are important.
Will we see more major changes?
Because superannuation represents a lot of preserved money, in a tax efficient environment, governments may continue to tinker with the regime. But that’s politics and it’s hard to predict.
How do lawyers, financial planners and accountants all fit together with wealth management?
Estate planning and wealth management are usually tax driven. Your financial planner and accountant may have advised you on the best way to set up your business and personal affairs but it’s important that those arrangements have been drafted properly and are regularly reviewed. For complex arrangements or ones set up long ago, you need to know that your lawyer, financial planner, and accountant are all working towards the same outcome for you. I like to work directly with my clients’ other advisors because it saves them the time and complexities of being the middle person.
Has becoming a parent changed your approach to your career and the law?
Now I value the hard work my parents did for me. I want to help others to prepare to seamlessly transfer their wealth to their families in line with their wishes.