This is a guest post by Emily Ford.
For something that has such significance, many of us are unsure about the requirements and laws surrounding making a will. What is perhaps even more worrying is that most of us don’t have one.
Wills and estate planning seems overwhelming – there is so much to consider. It is of no wonder that we put it off until it is too late.
While it may be tempting to save a few dollars by writing your will yourself, this can lead to legal problems after you have shuffled off.
Below are tips for your creating last will and testament.
Making a will
None of us, unfortunately, is excused from death. Accidents and illness can sometimes claim us long before we’re ready.
While it might be morbid to prepare for your death when you are relatively young, having a will is a practical idea, no matter what your age.
Dying without a will is called intestacy. If this occurs, the court determines how your assets are dispersed. Your estate could go to people you didn’t want it going to, or, in some cases, going to the government.
You may feel you don’t have any assets to worry about a will. However, a will can also determine the distribution of personal possessions. If an object had sentimental or actual value, you can bequeath it to a family member or friend, instead of it being sold or given to charity.
Wills encompass more than property and personal assets (like a bank account). Even if you’re quite young, you may have considerable finances in the form of superannuation or life insurance, which is why it’s important to write a will.
Update your will
Your will needs to be updated as your circumstances change. Old wills are not only made obsolete by marriage or divorce, but also if you have children.
You should also update your will if you separate from a de facto partner. If you pass away and your ex-partner is listed as a beneficiary, they will inherit part or all of your estate, even though you are no longer together.
Get a lawyer to draft it
Wills can be very complex and require precise wording in order to make them legally binding. It is therefore recommended that an experienced lawyer drafts it for you. The service that they provide far outweighs the modest sum it costs and will give you peace of mind because it will be done correctly.
Lawyers are especially important when your assets are multifaceted – when they involve shares, part ownership of a business, trusts etc. They will help you if you want to exclude a natural beneficiary from your will (i.e. a child). Legally, this is a very difficult thing to do, but a skilled lawyer will be able to guide you in this.
A lawyer who is knowledgeable in death taxes can save your beneficiary thousands of dollars in superannuation death benefits tax and capital gains tax. They do this by carefully crafting the will to leave assets through such things as trusts and funds as a gift, thus minimising taxes.
While it’s important to use an experienced lawyer when drafting your will, The Living Trust Network advisers that “there is no uniform fee schedule for Wills, nor is there any correlation between an attorney’s skill and experience and the fees charged.” So, it is sensible to ask around to find out who is capable in your area.
Tell someone where your will is
A will is only legal and its instructions followed if it can be found following your death. A common issue with wills is that the testator has neglected to inform their executor or family members where it is stored, so when they do pass away, it is either very difficult to find, or it cannot be located at all. If this happens, then the person dies intestacy.
Some government agencies offer a will bank service to safeguard your will against fire, theft or damage. Most law firms will provide a similar service, or keep duplicates of the will for a fee. If you’ve made a will, you’re essentially wasting your time and money, not to mention creating stress and potential lawsuits among family members if no one knows where it is. So don’t forget to tell someone!
While it can be depressing planning for your own death, writing a will and keeping it up to date is important, no matter what your age.
Do you have a written will? Have you updated it lately?
About the author
Emily Ford is an Australian DIY enthusiast, Property Consultant with a love for helping ordinary people preserve their wealth