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How to write a will

Published February 2021

Having a valid will in place helps create certainty.

Writing a will can feel like a complex and emotionally-charged task, so it’s easy to put off. But not having a valid will in place can create stress and uncertainty for your loved ones should the worst happen to you. Read on to learn more about wills and how they can offer added peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

What is a will?

A will is a legal document that states how you want assets such as property, shares and possessions distributed after you die. The assets covered by your will are known as your estate. In some Australian states the state government will distribute the estate how it best sees fit for people without a will.

What does a will cover?

A will can include information on any trusts you want set up, plans for your funeral or ongoing charity support. Assets covered may include cash, motor vehicles, furniture and personal effects and you can nominate one or more persons to act as your executors. This means they will administer your estate as set out in your will.

What is an estate plan?

An estate plan includes a will and other legal arrangements such as powers of attorney, nominated insurance beneficiaries and clearly states what medical decisions to be made on your behalf if you become incapacitated. A power of attorney is a legal document used to appoint someone to act on your behalf – that is, to be your decision maker – in property and financial matters.

An estate plan can also nominate the person responsible for care of minor children, how they are to be cared for until 18 and how assets are to be divided once you die.

When to write a will

Experiencing a major life event such as marriage, purchasing a property or establishing a business can be a good prompt to get financial affairs in order. For many people the arrival of children is a catalyst to check on levels of super, debt, life insurance, and to write a will as part of estate planning.

"Having young people to look after is a big incentive to get your affairs in order," says ANZ Head of Legal, Estate Planning Peter Holdsworth.

"You need to think about who will look after your children if one or both parents pass away and it’s likely you’ll want to nominate a guardian for them in your will."

"It’s also important to consider whether there’ll be sufficient funds available in your estate for your surviving family, particularly young children. Life insurance is often an appropriate means of ensuring there are sufficient funds in the estate to cover the costs of their upbringing, including education and ensuring quality of life and opportunity."

If a person dies without a will this is called ‘intestate’ and means the estate will be administered according to a formula set out in the relevant state law. This can take a long time and may result in some or all of your estate going to individuals you hadn’t intended to be beneficiaries.

"An unsigned will or an incomplete will, or having the idea of a will in your head is of no benefit to anyone," Holdsworth says.

"If you are thinking about the need for a will or your existing will needs updating, the best thing to do is to get onto it right away and get it done."

Safeguarding the future for the ones you love

As part of the estate-planning process many people want to make sure there will be enough funds to pay off debts and provide an income which meets the needs of their surviving partner and children, says ANZ financial planner Chris Lin.

Taking out life insurance can mean your loved ones aren’t left struggling financially if you die unexpectedly. The amount of cover you choose is likely to be determined by your age, stage in life and the size of your financial commitments.

"It can be perceived as a morbid topic and one which people are reluctant to address but taking care of these things can provide you with peace of mind that your loved ones will be cared for should the worst occur," Lin says.

By writing a will, checking super arrangements and ensuring enough insurance cover is in place you can help protect your loved ones’ financial future.

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