It’s easy to feel immortal and spontaneous when you are young and carefree. However, once you have a family or a mortgage (or both) there is a real need to look to the future and consider what lies ahead. Planning for your future might look like taking out life insurance, consolidating your debt, finding lost superannuation, giving up eating bowls of cereal for dinner… and arranging a Will.
It might seem particularly unpleasant to consider your own death but having a Will is actually one of the kindest things you can do for your loved ones. Without a valid Will, you cannot guarantee that when you die your estate will be distributed according to your wishes. Instead, your assets are assigned according to a formula determined by legislation meaning loved ones and relatives receive a defined percentage of your assets rather than in alignment with your wishes. The legislation does not allow for gifts to friends or charities and there is no provision made for pets.
You may think a Will is just about money and while it’s true a Will covers your assets (and who will get them) it also lets you determine who will look after your children if they are under 18, as well as instructions for funeral arrangements. If you don’t write a Will no one will know your wishes and things can get messy for those left behind.
So How do I Write a Will?
There are a few ways to arrange your Will. For a very simple Will, you may choose to use a DIY Will kit which you can buy from a post office or newsagency costing you between $30 - $60 however these are static and cannot be updated (you need to rewrite a new Will if circumstances change). There are also many online Will templates available. However Wills are not a ‘one size fits all’ document. Everyone has their own individual circumstances and you may need to customise templates to fit your wishes and situation. Keep in mind that making changes to a legal document may compromise its legality. If using a DIY kit ensure it is one which complies with Australian Law and it is critical that you complete it properly otherwise it becomes invalid. A Will must be properly signed and witnessed to be valid. Any DIY Will should be looked over by a solicitor to check that it is legally watertight.
If you don’t go down the DIY path you can either find a private Estate or Family Law solicitor to draft up a Will or use a Public Trustee to assist you. Hiring a solicitor experienced in Will drafting is the most expensive path to take but it is also a personalised service and a good choice for a more complex Will. A Public Trustee service (such as NSW Trustee and Guardian or TAG) gives you access to legal support for a set fee and is a popular choice for many Australians.
It’s important to keep your will up to date with any significant life or financial changes and review the document every few years. Big things like getting married, buying property, having children, changes in assets, divorce, retirement etc. are all life events that will impact your Will. Even smaller things like buying a car or opening a new bank account are worth updating in your Will.
It’s a good idea to discuss your plans with your family, as well as letting your most trusted family members know where you will keep your will. When writing your Will be as specific as possible about what you want, including people’s full names and details about your various assets.
As well as a Will It is a good idea to have an Estate Plan which will include your Will but also have information about your superannuation (including binding nominations) and information about how you want to be cared for (both medically and financially) should you no longer be capable of making your own decisions. Your Estate Plan should also include Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship documents which can be used to provide for your financial and lifestyle decisions.
What does Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship Mean?
Who you give Power of Attorney to is an important decision. By appointing an attorney, under a Power of Attorney, you give them the legal authority to look after your financial affairs on your behalf.
When you appoint someone to be your enduring guardian it means they can make health and lifestyle decisions on your behalf, such as where you live and what kind of healthcare you receive. You can also include in your Estate Plan your own healthcare and lifestyle directives and wishes.
What is an Executor?
The executor of a Will is responsible for carrying out the wishes of someone after they die. The executor manages the estate according to the terms of the Will and protects the assets of the estate. Other duties may include locating the Will, arrangement of the funeral, taking care of tax, debts and collecting assets just to name a few. It can be an overwhelming role for some, and it is possible for those nominated to pass on their responsibility to a professional executor if preferred.
Ensure you carefully consider who to nominate for these roles as they are positions of trust and responsibility and require someone to act in your best interests.
If you don’t have someone in your life you can trust in these roles you can approach your state or territory which will have a government-appointed body able to act as your attorney as well as assist you in writing and updating your Will. In NSW this service can be accessed via NSW Trustee and Guardian (TAG) which is an affordable way to gain access to the required legal services and fees are waived you receive a full Centrelink Age Pension.
There are lots of resources available online to find out more about what you should include in your will and how to make sure it is legally binding.
Here are a few helpful sites worth visiting:
The Federal Government’s MoneySmart website has some tips about what to include in your Will and information about understanding Power of Attorney.
If you are interested in drafting your own Will kit or using a DIY kit there are some helpful tips and reviews of DIY will kits at choice.com.au.
Drafting up your Will may confront you with your own mortality but perhaps it is also a reminder to live your very best life, as poet Mary Oliver so eloquently put it in her piece ‘Summer Day’:
“Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Alison Gallagher is a freelance writer, resourcefulness expert and entrepreneur. She has been featured in various publications including Stellar Magazine, Australian Health and Fitness Magazine, and Cleo Magazine. Alison is particularly passionate about sharing practical tips on how to live simply, sustainably and seasonally.