Much of your life is spent working to build up your assets and it’s important to see those assets go on to the right people should something happen to you. That’s where a will comes in.
A will is a legal document that appoints your personal legal representative (your executor) upon your death and sets in place the names of people you would like to leave your assets to. Without one, your estate will be distributed according to a government formula, which in all probability, will not necessarily reflect your wishes. This can be time consuming and costly for your family and can cause tension for everyone involved.
Making a will is the only way you can ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.
When should you make a will?
You can make a will at any point in your life, however it is particularly important if you have recently become a parent, are in a de-facto relationship or are approaching your later years in life.
How you make your will is up to you. A will can be made and drawn up yourself from the comfort of your home and as long as you do your research, can contain great detail without a hefty price tag. To ensure your will is carried out, follow these simple steps:
Know what you’re doing
Hop online and view sample wills and templates to get a feel of how your will should look. You can purchase templates from as little as $20, but be aware that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Every will is different and yours should reflect your unique situation. Items usually covered in a will include:
- Your home and/or investment properties
- Shares in private or public companies
- Loan accounts
- Money, term deposits, bonds and trusts
- Jewellery, furniture, appliances, cars and clothing
- Antiques, collectables and paintings
Choose the right executor
An executor should be someone likely to live much longer than you and should not be the person set to receive the majority share of your estate. Choose objective witnesses when possible.
Talk to your family
Without asking directly, you may not realise that your granddaughter has always admired your huge teapot collection and would love it for her home. Never assume things and openly discuss your will. You don’t have to tell people who’s getting what, but their input will help you make your decisions.
Be exact with details, such as including birth date and address with a name. If leaving a home, denote your home by its legal deed description rather than just the address. If leaving money to charity, find out the right contact to ensure it goes where you want it to.
The unexpected can happen and your favourite charity could close it’s doors or a relative could predecease you. Have in place stopgaps so that should something differ to what you have in writing, your assets can still go to a place you are happy with.
If you are estranged from a family member and wish for them to receive nothing, be clear in this. Instead of just leaving the name of the son you haven’t talked to in years out, state on your will that you intentionally do not leave anything to your son ‘X’.
Make sure it’s signed
As well as being written out by a person over 18 years of age, a will must be signed by the person making it and witnessed by two or more witnesses (not beneficiaries).
Every time you find yourself with a new child, grandchild or worthwhile asset, change your will to reflect your current wishes. Should you divorce or remarry, change your situation or if your executor is no longer suitable, adapt in accordance with your needs.
Tell someone where your will is kept
It’s all very well writing up a carefully thought out will, but if no one can find it, it’s worthless. Ensure you tell a member of the family or a good friend where you keep your will.
If putting a will together yourself sounds too difficult, talk to a lawyer about drawing one up. Wills generally cost anywhere from $150 to $1,000, and you should be aware that you will need to pay every time you make an edit.
The advantages of choosing a lawyer to draw up your will are:
- Your lawyer can look at your estate in great detail and offer an impartial opinion
- Your will is drawn in plain English and clear, precise text
- Your will can be held in the safe custody of your chosen law firm