Do you have a will? Innovative legal centre offers help

Date: Apr 29, 2022

Publication Type: Blog

Subject: Newspaper

Not-for-profit community legal centre Arts Law runs a program called Artists in the Black. Since 2004, they’ve prepared over 1,600 wills for First Nations artists. Arts Law paralegal Jack Howard explains the importance of wills for Aboriginal artists.

Less than six per cent Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander adults have a will. This is compared to 60 per cent of non-Indigenous Australian adults.

Having a will in place helps guide and provide security for your family when you are gone. A will is about leaving your possessions to family and friends. But it is also a way of ensuring that your last wishes are respected and understood by those closest to you.  

The recent case of Gurrumul Yunupingu highlights the importance of having a good will. While Gurrumul had prepared a will, he never received legal advice about it. As a result, the will has had legal problems that remain unresolved nearly five years after his death. 

Arts Law's Artists in the Black (AITB) program was founded in 2004. Since then, preparing wills for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists has been a major part of our lawyers' work.

Arts Law/AITB run an outreach program, which sees our team visiting dozens of art centres and communities each year. This work is supported by pro bono lawyers from Australian law firms who recognise the impact of this work. Since 2004, we have prepared over 1,600 wills for First Nations artists.   

Distrust of white law is an understandable reason behind low uptake of wills by First Australians. The passing of property under millennia-old cultural and legal traditions should be more than enough to determine how a person’s property is shared among family and kin when they die. 

Unfortunately, this is not the way the law sees things.

The late Geoffery Gurrumul Yunupingu's estate remains in limbo. Photo Ullstein Bild, courtesy Getty Images

Where there is no will, each State or Territory has different rules and procedures that govern what happens to a person’s assets when they die. Arts Law/AITB have ‘Intestacy Kits’ for each State and Territory that explain the different processes across the country. Often, these estates will be left in the hands of an automatically appointed trustee, usually the Public Trustee in each State or Territory.

Preparing a will can be a daunting thing at first. This is why wills must be made in a culturally appropriate, confidential, trusting and stress-free environment. Interpreters and support staff play a critical role to make sure a person’s wishes are accurately understood and recorded.  

Drafting a will includes drawing up a clear family tree to ensure no relative is forgotten. Having a will helps make this clear and puts a person’s wishes beyond any doubt.  

A will is an empowering document. It is a person’s final word on how they wish their property and legacy to survive them. Arts Law’s education on wills focuses heavily on this point: that, while distrust of white law is perfectly reasonable, it is far worse to pass away without a will in place, in which case the mechanisms of Australian law and government bureaucracy have an even more direct and often negative impact on a grieving family’s life and livelihoods.  

We strongly encourage any artist who wants to learn more about wills to contact Arts Law. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists receive free legal advice – including the free drafting of wills. For the families of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, we also provide free legal advice on estate management, including what to do where there was no will in place. For non-artists, there are free or low-cost will drafting services available in each State or Territory which we encourage everybody without a will to explore.  

You can contact Arts Law at artslaw@artslaw.com.au, visit www.artslaw.com.au or free call 1800 221 457.