The answer often depends on the type of asset you own and the structure through which you own it.
Generally, when you die an executor that you nominate in your will takes control of your assets and has responsibility for distributing them in accordance with your wishes. The executor will normally apply for a court order declaring your will is valid. This court order is called probate.
If you die without a will, or if your executor is unable or unwilling to act, the court will normally appoint an administrator to the estate. The administrator has similar powers to an executor.
Then, they will deal with your assets in accordance with your will, or in accordance with the rules of your state if you didn't leave a will.
Let's look at what happens to your investments one by one:
An interest in real estate held in your name alone forms part of your estate and is passed on or sold in accordance with your wishes as set out in your will.
This not necessarily true when you own real estate with someone else.
Jointly owned real estate can be held in one of two ways—as 'joint tenants' or 'tenants in common'. If a tenant in common dies, their interest in the real estate is an asset of their deceased estate and can be passed on to beneficiaries as dictated by their will.1 If they are joint tenants, however, their interest passes directly to the other joint tenant and does not form part of the estate.
Shares and managed funds
Directly-owned shares and units in managed funds that are in your name only form part of your estate and will be passed on in accordance with your will by your executor. The executor can sell shares and distribute the proceeds or distribute the shares directly.
But jointly owned shares come under similar rules to real estate. Where shares are held as 'joint tenants'—which is common in many brokerage accounts—the other owner automatically takes full ownership.
If you have a joint bank account, the money will also transfer directly to the other joint holder.2 Otherwise, bank accounts are closed and the money paid to the executor or administrator, who then distributes the money to your beneficiaries.
Your personal property like cars, furniture, clothing, artwork and other goods form part of your estate.3 Most personal property will be distributed according to your will. Property that requires registration, like cars and boats, will need to be formally transferred by the executor.
Assets held in a family trust do not form part of your estate. Assets held in a trust are owned by the trust, which continues to operate after your death.4 The trust determines who gets the assets regardless of what your will says.
Similar to family trusts, any assets owned by your private company do not form part of your estate when you die because those assets are owned by the company, not by you personally. This is true even if you are the only shareholder in the company.
The shares that you own in the company do form part of your estate and can be passed on.
Private companies can be complicated if you are the only director and don't leave a will appointing an executor who can appoint a director to the company after you are gone. In that case, a relative would have to apply to the Supreme Court for letters of administration to manage the estate which can take months(5), during which time the company may be unable to trade.
Your superannuation is also not part of your estate as it is held in trust to fund your retirement. Your super is passed to your beneficiaries in very specific ways, usually through a Binding Death Benefit Nomination or a reversionary pension.
The benefit of considering what type of assets will need to be dealt with when you are no longer around may not seem like a big deal but it can make it much easier for those set to receive things you want them to have and for those charged with distributing your assets. So it is well worth while giving the matters covered in our three part series on estate planning serious consideration.
Written by Robin Bowerman
Head of Corporate Affairs at Vanguard.
28 July 2020
BEc (Acc), MBA, CPA, FFin
David has been in the Financial Services Industry for nearly 30 years. He was one of the founding Directors of the successful Financial Planning and Stockbroking Practice, Henderson Gregory Forrest, for a decade. Prior to that, he held senior roles in companies such as ING, KPMG Accountants and AMP. David was previously Chairman of OAMPS Superannuation Trustee Board and currently serves as an independent Board Director for several companies.
David’s extensive experience in all forms of superannuation, including Self Managed Super Funds (SMSF), Defined Benefit Funds, retirement funding through Account Based Pensions, stockbroking with a focus on Direct Share Investment, Taxation/Remuneration Planning, Centrelink, Aged Care and business management, equip him to advise expertly on all aspects of Financial Advice.
Those with a particular interest in superannuation/SMSFs, direct share investment, salary packaging or applying for the Centrelink Pension will find his knowledge and ability in formulating and implementing creative, logical and simple wealth creation strategies a valuable asset.
David maintains a strong personalised client service focus, providing tailored solutions for clients.
David Forrest is an Authorised Representative of Integrity Financial (SA) Pty Ltd ABN 16 133 921 187 — AFSL No 334846
Business Finance Manager
B Bus (Acc), CPA
Michelle’s career has spanned across the Financial Services, Retirement Living and Aged Care industries working in the private sector, not for profit and more recently with the state government for over 20 years. Her experience extends to many facets of the financial services industry, having worked in superannuation administration, technical support and financial planning practice administration.
Commencing with AMP and subsequently working in commerce and accounting roles with companies such as Brambles, Adelaide Bank Retirement Services, ECH Inc and SA Health and Wellbeing, Michelle returns to financial services after working in practice financial management at Henderson Gregory Forrest. This wide range of experience from senior accounting and management roles has provided Michelle with a strong background in business administration.
With an astute financial acumen and keen interest in business improvement strategies, Michelle ensures the smooth running of the Integrity Financial Advisory practice providing valued management support to our personalised client service focus.
B Com, Dip FP
Darren joins the Integrity team as a strong technical specialist with almost 20 years’ in the Financial Services industry. He has extensive experience advising clients on how to build and protect wealth, prepare for retirement and retire comfortably.
Commencing with advising clients on direct equities for over 10 years at Baker Young, Tolhurst Noall, and ABN AMRO Morgans, his career expanded to providing holistic client advice, having operated his own financial services licence and company. Most recently having worked for a 'Big 4' bank, he has welcomed the more personalised ‘client first’ approach that is evident at Integrity Financial Advisory.
With a deep understanding of investment markets, he is appropriately qualified and authorised to provide direct share advice, as well as superannuation/SMSF advice, encompassing both investments and insurance.
Meticulous in his approach, he aims to deliver quality outcomes for clients by understanding their financial situation and needs before providing advice which is central to our advice process. Darren supports David in tailoring solutions for all client financial advice needs.
Darren Chalk is an Authorised Representative of Integrity Financial (SA) Pty Ltd ABN 16 133 921 187 — AFSL No 334846
Client Service Manager
Natasha commenced working in the financial services industry in June 2008 and is a new addition to the Integrity team. During the past 11 years, she worked closely with advisers providing administration support in a share broking and financial advice business.
Having successfully completed her RG146 accreditation in securities and managed investments and continued her studies to complete her competency in Superannuation, Natasha can ably assist with all aspects of fixed interest, cash management, portfolio administration, direct shares and client advice implementation.
Natasha takes time to ensure she understands our client’s financial goals and needs and believes in creating, preserving and utilising wealth through effective financial management as a key objective in helping clients.
Client Service Manager
Kelly has worked in the Financial Services Industry for over 10 years and has supported David since 2013. Kelly’s primary background is in customer service and administration.
On starting in the industry, Kelly initially focused on direct shares, stockbroking administration and client liaison. Since moving to the Client Service Manager role, Kelly has developed skills encompassing all aspects of financial planning including client advice implementation and term deposit management.
Kelly’s experience in the direct share environment, especially management of estates, provides a key part of the direct equity expertise in Integrity’s Client Service Team.
Returning from Parental Leave following the arrival of her second child, Kelly has developed further honed multi-tasking skills after juggling the demands of a growing family.
Client Service Manager
Jasmine has worked in the financial services industry for over 12 years in all areas of client administration, working with David since 2013.
Jasmine has extensive knowledge and experience in client service including implementation of advice, portfolio reporting, assisting with the establishment of Self Managed Super Funds (SMSFs), term deposit management and a long history of helping clients with their enquiries.
Jasmine’s attention to detail, yet gentle approach, means she is able to solve the trickiest of questions for our client community.
Jasmine has gained her Certificate III in Financial Services qualification.
Client Service Manager
Merrilyn has worked in the financial services industry for over 11 years in all areas of client administration, and is a new addition to our client services team, returning from Melbourne to join the team in June 2019.
Merrilyn has extensive knowledge and experience in client service including implementation of advice, managed fund administration, assisting with the establishment of Self Managed Super Funds (SMSFs) and process improvement for the previous practices she has worked with. Merrilyn’s experience with direct shares constitutes the other part of our administrative support for direct equity investments.
Merrilyn’s warm and caring nature continues to endear her to our clients and she has already established herself as a valued member of our team.