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Blood thicker than water when it comes to inheritance

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Lawyers are urging families to use Victorian Seniors’ Week as an opportunity to review their wills, after recent research found most people believe blood is thicker than non-family relationships when it comes to inheritance.

The 33rd Annual Victorian Seniors’ Festival kicked off on Sunday and this year the focus is on communities. Community support is vital for many older Victorians who either don’t have family, or aren’t close to their family members.

Despite this, a survey of more than 2,000 Australians by law firm Slater and Gordon revealed 63 per cent of respondents believed a non-relative should not be entitled to a significant inheritance, even if that person visited them regularly, helped with day-to-day tasks and celebrated holidays with them.

Victorians were the most likely to take this view, with more than two-thirds (67 per cent) stating they believed non-family members should not receive a greater share of an inheritance.*

Senior estate planning lawyer Rod Cunich said these figures showed how strongly people felt about assets staying in the family.

“I regularly see people who choose to leave their assets to people they have forged a strong relationship with, in the absence of close family members,” Mr Cunich said.

“They are well within their rights to do so, but we must remember that in Australia children have the right to contest a will.

“For this reason, a will-maker should be very clear and concise about how their assets are to be distributed, including outlining the reasons why and the likely consequences.

“It’s all too easy to inadvertently encourage and fuel a dispute between those left behind. Is that the legacy you want to leave?”

Previous Slater and Gordon research also found more than one third of Australians had experienced conflict over the distribution of assets and inheritance under a will.

“A comprehensive written will, that is up-to-date and well-defined, makes sure that the estate is distributed according to their wishes and can reduce confusion and conflicts within the family,” Mr Cunich said.

“Critically, will-makers must communicate their intention to those involved. Clear communication is the single most effective means of minimising disputes.”

*More than two-thirds (67 per cent) of Victorians were more likely to believe non-family members should not receive a greater share of an inheritance, while other states were: Queensland (64 per cent); NSW (62 per cent), SA (59 per cent) and WA (58 per cent).