Academic Community Research Projects

Synopsis: Digital assets and risk issues for clients and LPRs


Digital assets, together with related areas such as Blockchain, is a subject of great significance in estate administration and will become a core subject for most STEP members. This project extends the work undertaken by the STEP Academic Community and Digital Asset Special Interest Group (SIG) over the last two years. Previous work of the STEP Academic Community and Digital Asset SIG has revolved around digital assets and estate administration as well as taxation issues relating to digital assets.

The project will consider the risks to donors, beneficiaries and Legal Personal Representatives (LPRs) relating to the access, storage, use and disposal of digital assets. In particular it will consider cyber security issues involved in death and disability and potential solutions. Some recent developments lead raise questions such as what are the risk and security issues involved in writing, storing and using digital wills and what are the risks to those who have diminished capacity of increasing digitization of personal and financial records.

The risk posed by the advent of digital assets to practitioners and clients needs to be addressed particularly given a growing aging demographic in most STEP jurisdictions. This research project offers an opportunity of Academic Community members and Digital Asset SIG members to collaborate and produce much needed thought leadership in this area.


This research is a joint project between members of the Academic Community and Digital Asset SIG. Researchers will include Professor Adam Steen TEP and Professor Steven D’Alessandro from the Academic Community. Professor Steen has authored and co-authored several articles on digital assets as well as having been a co-author of a submission to the NSW Law Reform Commission paper on access to digital assets upon death or incapacity. Professor DÁlessando has published two recent monographs on cyber security. The project will be supported by members of the Digital Asset SIG including Kathleen Cunningham TEP in Canada and Leigh Sagar TEP in the UK.

Scoping Study on the teaching of mental capacity within professional disciplines


Building on earlier preliminary work undertaken in the United Kingdom by the Mental Capacity SIG this study aims to establish where and how the subject of mental capacity is taught, within a number of STEP jurisdictions including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore. In these jurisdictions an ageing population has raised discussion of many issues not the least of which is mental capacity and the challenges this issue presents.

With an ageing population in these jurisdictions and the increased chance of cognitive impairment as we age it is imperative that professionals working with older clients are aware of the legal and financial issues associated with mental capacity. It is also necessary for professionals to become familiar with the “dynamic” nature of capacity, in that for some conditions, it can be regained.

For example, in Australia there have been increasing numbers of lawyers who are having their client approach questioned resulting in transactions overturned in Court and may also appear before the Legal Services Commissioners in respect of a failure to adequately take into consideration the cognitive abilities of their older clients.

The work will also support STEP’s professional standards agenda.

Following the scoping study, the proposal is to develop content on mental capacity which, in its initial stage, would be for the use exclusively of STEP members. Subsequently the research would be used to support the proposal for the development of courses on mental capacity and advising vulnerable clients, initially in Canada and Australia but extending to HK, Singapore and NZ as appropriate.


As the project is international in focus researchers from a number of STEP and STEP Academic Community Members including:

  • Kathleen Cunningham B. Comm. LLB, MPS TEP (Member STEP Canada)
  • Associate Professor YAN Chau Wai PhD (CUHK) MPhil (CUHK) (STEP Academic Community)
  • Professor Adam Steen, PhD, MCom, Bec (Hons), Dip Ed, TEP (Member STEP South Australia)
  • Karen Williams, BSW, MHSM, JD (Member STEP Academic Community)
  • Sue Field, BA, M.Ed. Admin, LLB (Member STEP Academic Community)

Research Reference Group

In addition the research team has a reference group who are highly experienced in the area:

Julia Aubrey TEP Withers LLP (STEP UK)

Estate Planning

This proposed research follows the project Estate Planning in Australia completed in 2017 which gained a significant amount of publicity for STEP with 28 pieces of media coverage including 2 live national television reports.

As with Australia, there is a shortage of research on Estate Planning in other jurisdictions. This research project aims to create a body of national knowledge of estate planning practices including the public’s use and understanding of trusts in estate planning. Specifically, the research will facilitate discussion of how engaged the public are in the Estate Planning processes, how prepared they are for disability and death, why certain sections of the population are less engaged than others, what impact continuing digitisation is having from an estate planning perspective and how can informed estate planning can assist individuals and their families. In short, the research will help the public to understand what constitutes effective estate planning and will profile STEP as the primary professional body in this area.

It is intended that these studies can form part of an eventual multi-jurisdictional project of estate planning practices. The existing questionnaire can be adapted for major STEP jurisdictions and progressively surveyed. Information gathered could be combined to form a body of research to reflect estate planning practices internationally and assist in promoting STEP as a global brand.

For more information about this study, please contact the Academic Community Secretary via [email protected]

Estate Planning in Australia

Over the next several decades, the ageing of Australia’s population is expected to adversely impact the health, size of the working-age population, housing and demand for skilled labour of the nation. A major implication of these trends for business is the importance of developing appropriate succession planning. For the general population estate planning is of equal importance.

This study, published in 2017, aims to identify the extent of succession and estate planning already undertaken and the expected demand for these services in Australia. Findings from this research will inform the business and wider Australian community, promote the need for appropriate succession and estate planning and promote the role of STEP within the financial services sector in Australia.

The survey instruments and methodologies developed and employed in this study are designed to be replicated across other jurisdictions in which STEP operates.

The research was conducted by Professor Adam Steen TEP and Dr Chris Graves (Adelaide University)

Estate Planning in Australia Report (PDF 6.09MB)