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How to write a will

Published October 2019

Having a valid will in place provides certainty for you and protection for the ones you love.

Writing a will is something few people look forward to doing. It’s an easy task to put off. But not having a valid will in place can make things more stressful and difficult for your loved ones when you die.

What is a will? 

Your will is a legal document that states how your property and possessions (your estate) are to be distributed on death. It may also nominate the person who is to care for any of your minor children, how you want your assets to be divided and how children under the age of 18 are to be cared for once you die. The assets covered by your will are known as your estate and can include property, shares and personal effects.

Why do I need a will? 

Creating a will is an important part of planning what will happen to your estate when you die. An estate plan includes legal arrangements such as your will and powers of attorney, plus your nominated insurance beneficiaries and medical decisions to be made on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Having a will in place will help ensure your assets will be passed down to the loved ones of your choosing, without undue hassle, delay or expense.

If you don’t have a will you’re not alone as studies show around half of all Australians don’t have one. If you don’t have a will then on your death your estate will be administered according to a formula set out in legislation. In other words, the Parliament has written a will for you says ANZ Head of Legal, Estate Planning Peter Holdsworth. A person who dies without leaving a valid Will is said to have died intestate.

Rather than you deciding who will receive your property, the provisions of an act of parliament will determine how your estate is to be distributed and who will have the responsibility of administering your estate. 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. Making a properly prepared and valid will is the best way to ensure this doesn’t happen.

What a will covers 

The assets covered by your will may include property, cash, motor vehicles, furniture and personal effects. Jointly owned assets, your superannuation and the proceeds of your life-insurance policy aren’t automatically included in your will. However it’s possible for your superannuation and life-insurance policy proceeds to be distributed via your will if you nominate your estate as your beneficiary instead of an individual. You can do this directly with your super fund and insurance provider.

In your will you can nominate one or more persons to act as your executors, being the persons who will administer your estate in accordance with your Will. They are also in charge of distributing what’s left of your estate after funeral expenses and debts are paid in the way you specified.

The best time to write a will 

Major life events such as marriage, the purchase of a property or the establishment or sale of a business can prompt people to write or revise a will and sort out their superannuation and insurance beneficiaries. For many couples the arrival of children is a catalyst.

“Having young people to look after is a big incentive to get your affairs in order,” Holdsworth says.

“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.”

Safeguarding the future for the ones you love

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.

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.

“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.

Time to act – making a will 

While there are DIY options available, having your will drafted by a lawyer with estate-planning experience can ensure nothing is missed and there are no unintended consequences. In most states the public trustee offers a free will-making service.

If writing a will has been on your ‘to do’ list for a while, now is the time to tick it off.

“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.”

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This information is current as at date of publication and is subject to change.

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