The Ultimate Guide to Navigating Inheritance


Inheritances, in their various forms, often come at significant crossroads in life. Whilst, they can promise a fresh start and financial freedom, they can also bring complex emotions and complex financial and legal choices that can feel overwhelming.

This comprehensive guide addresses the different considerations for Australians who are faced with this significant life event.


Understanding the Basics of Australian Inheritance

Before jumping into the specifics, it’s crucial to comprehend the foundational elements of the inheritance process in Australia. An inheritance typically consists of assets, and in some cases, debts that are left behind after someone passes away.

In Australian law, the way these assets are distributed depends on several factors, including the existence of a will, family provision claims, and any trust arrangements set up by the testator.


  • Wills and Intestacy Laws – If the deceased left a will, the process will generally be straightforward, with the executor named in the will guiding the distribution of assets. In the absence of a will, the estate is handled according to intestacy laws that vary slightly from state to state. These laws determine who is entitled to the assets and the percentages for distribution among family members.


  • Probate and Administration – The executor of the will handles probate if a will exists. This is the process of proving the will’s validity and ensuring the proper distribution of the assets. If there is no will, a family member must apply for administration to handle the estate.


First Steps for Inheritance Beneficiaries

Receiving an inheritance can seem like a financial payout, but the first steps you take can set the foundation for your future financial position. Here are the initial actions to take upon receiving an inheritance:


1. Notify the Necessary Parties – First and foremost, you must notify the relevant authorities, such as the financial institutions, and government agencies, such as the ATO (Australian Taxation Office), Centrelink, and Medicare, of the death and your status as a beneficiary.


2. Gather All Documentation – Collect all relevant documentation, including the will (if one exists), death certificate, and any insurance policies. These documents will be essential during the execution of the estate and any claims you may wish to process.


3. Open a Separate Inheritance Account – To manage the funds effectively and avoid mingling inherited assets with your personal finances, consider opening a separate bank account designated for the inheritance.


Managing Financial Implications

Handling the financial side of an inheritance often begins with tax considerations and the need to assess the value of various assets and any fees or debts associated with them.


  • Understand Inheritance Tax in Australia – Australia does not have a specific inheritance tax, but beneficiaries may still incur tax liabilities on certain aspects of the inheritance. Capital gains tax (CGT) applies to the disposal of inherited assets, while the ATO may tax the income earned by inherited funds under personal income tax.


  • Evaluate Different Assets – Not all assets are equal, and evaluating the financial value and long-term sustainability of each asset is crucial. Property, shares, superannuation, and cash all have different rules and implications, especially regarding tax.


  • Pay Off Debts and Evaluate Ongoing Expenses – Before enjoying the benefits of inherited wealth, it’s essential to address any outstanding debts of the deceased and evaluate ongoing expenses such as mortgages, maintenance costs, and other payments associated with inherited property.


Investment and Professional Advice

Inheritance proceeds can lay a foundation for wealth management, but without a solid understanding of financial planning, you might squander the opportunity.


  • Seek Legal and Financial Advice – Professional advice is invaluable during this time. Consult a solicitor for legal matters related to the estate and a financial planner to help make informed decisions about managing your newfound wealth.


  • Invest in Your Future – In some cases, an inheritance may be the largest sum of money you receive in your lifetime. Investing in higher education, starting a business, or enhancing your career with additional training might be wise decisions to ensure lasting benefits.


  • Consider Long-term Financial Goals – Use the inheritance as a springboard to secure your financial future. Whether it’s buying a home, contributing to your superannuation, or creating a balanced portfolio, thinking long-term ensures you benefit for years to come.


Emotional and Personal Considerations

Inheritances aren’t just about money and property; they also carry emotional weight and can lead to lifestyle changes. It’s important to consider how these aspects impact your life and well-being.


  • Reflect on Your Relationship with the Deceased – Take the time to process the emotional implications of your inheritance. It could be a remembrance of the deceased’s wishes and the legacy they intended to leave behind.


  • Navigate Family Dynamics – Inheritances can sometimes lead to family disputes. Tread carefully in communicating with other beneficiaries and consider mediation if necessary to address conflicting interests and ensure a fair resolution.


  • Make Decisions that Align with Your Values – How you use your inheritance should reflect your personal values and long-term aspirations. This might mean philanthropy, environmentally friendly investments, or supporting the community in a manner that honours the deceased.


Inheritance and Lifestyle Changes

For many, inheritance often leads to lifestyle changes, for better or for worse. It’s important to plan how to deal with these changes responsibly and sustainably.


  • Lifestyle Analysis – Analyse how your lifestyle might change with the inheritance. Will you be able to retire earlier, pursue a passion project, or travel more frequently? Consider how these changes align with your life plan and the inheritance’s role in realising your dreams.


  • Avoid Lifestyle Creep – The temptation to upgrade your life significantly after an inheritance is real. But consider the long-term implications and the potential risks of an unsustainable lifestyle. Creating a detailed financial plan can help you avoid pitfalls such as overspending.


  • Use the Inheritance as a Tool for Improvement – Leverage your inheritance to make significant life improvements. Whether it’s renovating your home for a more suitable living space or investing in your health, view your inheritance as a versatile tool for enhancing various aspects of your life.


Inheritance and Relationship Dynamics

Inheritances can have a profound effect on relationships, particularly with spouses, children, and extended family members.


  • Legal Spousal Implications – In Australia, a spouse can be entitled to a portion of the deceased’s estate. This can affect the distribution of assets and requires careful consideration.


  • Involve Your Spouse in Decision-making – Open communication with your spouse is critical in handling the inheritance. Joint decision-making ensures that both parties’ interests and long-term goals are considered.


  • Address Intergenerational Wealth Transfer – If your inheritance is extensive, it may also be the ideal time to consider your legacy and the most effective ways to pass on wealth to your children or future generations.


Receiving an inheritance is not just about the immediate financial rewards; it’s a life event that requires careful thought and planning. By understanding the legal and financial implications, seeking professional advice, and making personal decisions that resonate with your values, you can transform inheritance into a positive, enriching experience that shapes your future in a meaningful way.

Inheriting wealth is a privilege that comes with responsibilities and opportunities. By navigating the process with mindfulness and a clear strategy, you can turn this new chapter in your life into a powerful tool for personal growth, security, and the fulfillment of your long-term goals. Whether your inheritance is modest or significant, each decision you make is a step towards a legacy that echoes the values you hold dear.

If you would like to start building a secure financial future, please click here to organise a complimentary meeting with an EPG Wealth adviser.


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