Kitchen table promises are not enough – why clear inheritance instructions are important for the Australian baby boomer generation.

When it comes to inheritance, the stakes are higher than ever. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are the wealthiest generation in history having accumulated significant assets over their lifetimes. In Australia, this generation is currently experiencing an intergenerational wealth transfer valued at trillions of dollars.

However, a concerning trend has emerged: many baby boomers are not leaving clear instructions regarding their estates, leading to an increase in family disputes and legal battles.


The Growing Issue of Inheritance Disputes

High property prices and substantial accumulated wealth are driving factors behind the surge in inheritance disputes. According to Catherine Sayer, chief executive officer of the Family Business Association (FBA), the lack of explicit instructions regarding the distribution of assets has resulted in numerous court cases over broken promises about gifts and inheritances. These disputes are often costly and can lead to long-lasting family rifts.

Kylie Wilson, a partner with Sparke Helmore Lawyers, highlights a common scenario known as the “kitchen table” promise. This typically involves a verbal commitment made by a parent to a child about the future distribution of the family estate, often in the context of agricultural businesses. Unfortunately, without proper documentation, these promises can lead to significant legal challenges and family conflicts.


The Scale of the Wealth Transfer

The transfer of wealth from baby boomers to their heirs is unprecedented. In Australia, estimates suggest that the intergenerational transfer could amount to several trillion dollars over the next few decades. This massive shift in wealth underscores the importance of having clear and legally binding instructions to ensure smooth transitions and to honor the intentions of the benefactors.


The Importance of Documenting Your Wishes

To avoid the pitfalls of inheritance disputes, it is crucial for baby boomers to document their wishes clearly and comprehensively. Here are some practical steps to consider:

1. Create a Will: A legally binding will is the cornerstone of estate planning. It should outline the distribution of assets and name executors to carry out your wishes.

2. Discuss your Plans: Open and honest communication with your family about your intentions can help set expectations and reduce the likelihood of disputes.

3. Seek Professional Advice: Consulting with legal and financial professionals can ensure that your estate plan is robust and compliant with current laws.

4. Review Regularly: Life circumstances change, and so should your estate plan. Regular reviews and updates are essential to ensure your wishes are accurately reflected.

As the baby boomer generation ages, the importance of clear and documented inheritance instructions cannot be overstated. With trillions of dollars at stake, the potential for family drama and legal battles is high. By taking proactive steps to document and communicate their wishes, baby boomers can help ensure their legacies are preserved and their families remain harmonious.

In the end, the goal is simple: to avoid the heartache and expense of inheritance disputes, and to provide clarity and peace of mind for the loved ones left behind.

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Feature image: Photographed by Mathieu Stern. Image via Unsplash.
This article was first written by Vanessa Stoykov and supplied to Hunter and Bligh.