Your step-by-step guide to creating a will
No one likes to think about preparing for the end of their life, especially when it involves paperwork like putting together a will. But when you pass away, you want to make sure your wishes are carried out and your loved ones aren't left with unnecessary stresses during a difficult time.
To make everything easy for you, we've put together this guide to creating a will. From understanding exactly what a will is for, to choosing your beneficiaries, to all the key information you need to build it - use this guide as a starting point when writing your will.
What is a will?
When you hear the term ‘will’, you’re probably imagining a lengthy and overcomplicated document that could take several hours – if not days – to put together. -Good news! This is not always the case. You can even take care of it yourself online thanks to initiatives by the Australian Government.
In short, a will is a legally binding document that outlines what you want to happen to your assets and belongings when you pass away. It is an important legal document that involves potentially complex instructions on your assets, your estate, your beneficiaries, superannuation and other issues. It may also include details about who will look after your children (if they are young), current trusts in your name, whether you would like to leave money to particular charities, as well as any specific plans for your funeral.
Many experts suggest seeing a lawyer to assist you with drafting your will, particularly if your personal situation is complex. Incorrectly drafted wills can impact your beneficiaries, and may require further interpretation by a court process, which is often costly.
It’s also not a set-and-forget document. Over the course of your life, major milestones may mean that it’s time to update your will. For example, if you get married or divorced, have children, experience a significant change to your finances, or if your spouse passes away – these are all instances when you should revise your existing will.
Depending on your situation, it may also be wise to nominate a power of attorney – someone who is responsible and trustworthy enough to take care of your affairs if you are unable to, such as due to serious illness or death.
How can you create a will?
When you’re thinking about putting together your will, it’s also a good time to consider any costs that might fall to your loved ones should you pass away. After all, at a time when they should be grieving, having to organise – and pay for – a funeral can be a heavy burden to bear.
There are a few different ways you can create a will. You can pay for a legal expert (e.g. a solicitor) to write up your will, you can go DIY, or you can use a public trustee. For the latter, you may not have to pay a fee if you are a pensioner or aged over 60, or if you nominate them to be your will’s executor. When someone passes away, an executor is the individual appointed by the will to administer the estate. In the simplest terms, this includes making sure their debts are paid and that their assets and possessions go where they wanted them to go. Moneysmart advises that there are different rules depending on where you live around Australia, so make sure you visit the appropriate website for public trustees:
- New South Wales
- South Australia
- Australian Capital Territory
- Northern Territory
- Western Australia
To have a will or not to have a will: What's the real difference?
As outlined above, having a will means you have total control over your final wishes, including things like how your assets are disbursed, who will look after the kids, and how you want your funeral to be carried out. The alternative is not so positive. While it’s easy to ignore creating a will when you are young and healthy, the results could be quite devastating for your family if you were to suddenly pass away.
If you die without a will, the law decides who will receive your assets. Generally, your next of kin (e.g. spouse, domestic partner or child) will make an application to the state’s Supreme Court for a Grant of Letters of Administration. This will start the process of distributing your estate, and it may become a drawn-out and difficult process for your loved ones.
Key information for creating a legal will
Because of the seriousness of a will and ensuring your wishes are carried out as you expect them to, there are some important rules around making a valid will:
- The will must be in writing.
- There must be at least two witnesses in attendance when you sign the will. Your witnesses must also sign at the same time as you.
- Signees must do so on each page of the will, using the same pen.
- You must have the mental capacity to create and sign a will (i.e. you cannot be suffering from a disorder of the mind or sane delusion).
- If you want to avoid your will being challenged, you must attain an affidavit (e.g. a signed affidavit from your doctor testifying that you are of sound mind at the time of completing your will).
- Understand that marriage and divorce will affect the validity of your will, so always review your will after these major life events and seek out a legal expert to help manage any changes.
- It’s strongly recommended that you manage your powers of attorney and guardianship choices at the time of making your will.
- While you are legally able to create your will on your own, it’s advisable to seek the assistance of a legal expert to ensure your wishes are carried out to your requests.
Creating a will isn’t as complex or as expensive as you probably thought, and neither is taking out funeral insurance. Taking care of both can mean your loved ones aren’t burdened further during an already-difficult time.
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22 Feb 2021