Writing a will gives you the power to decide what happens to your assets—and make sure your loved ones are well looked after in your absence.
Being invited to write a eulogy is a real honour, but it can also be challenging—especially when you’re struggling with loss.
It’s only natural to want to avoid planning a will. However, if you’re feeling hesitant, you can switch your thinking and look at learning how to write a will as an opportunity, rather than a burden.
After all, if you’ve worked hard to build your assets, then why wouldn’t you want to make sure that, when you’re gone, they benefit the people you care about the most?
A will is a legally binding document that sets out what happens to your assets. It can also include instructions for guardianship for anyone under your care, such as underaged children, when you die.
If you die without a will, then you ‘die intestate’. This means that the future of your assets will be determined, not by you, but by the government and the law.
In most cases, your assets will go to your next of kin—be that your partner, your children or your parents.
However, the rules are complex. For example, in Victoria, a partner can only receive your assets if you’ve lived together for at least two years, or had a child together, or registered your relationship.
Plus, the process isn’t automatic, which could put pressure on your loved ones, who would need to complete burdensome paperwork, such as letters of administration.
If you don’t have any relatives, then your assets could end up in the hands of the government.
What goes into your will is up to you. As a rule of thumb, when planning a will, you should put together:
Anyone who’s over 18 can write a will. Many people think they don’t need to start planning a will because they don’t have assets or dependants. However, receiving little things, such as photographs and much-loved objects, can mean a lot to those left behind—and making decisions about who will receive your belongings can minimise the likelihood of arguments.
On top of that, many people over 18 in Australia have at least some superannuation, through which they might have a life insurance policy.
Life insurance provides your loved ones—usually your partner and/or dependants—with a lump sum, which helps them financially after your death. The money can go towards paying debts, including your medical bills and funeral expenses, as well a mortgage and personal loans. It can also act as replacement income, ensuring your loved ones are able to meet daily expenses in your absence.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that where your life insurance policy is part of your superannuation arrangements, it doesn’t automatically form part of your estate and any beneficiaries will need to be communicated in writing to your superannuation fund.
It’s important to get onto planning a will while you’re healthy, well and sound of mind. As much as we don’t like to think about it, accidents and unexpected illnesses can happen. Many Australians die every year without a will, often putting their loved ones through unnecessary anguish and uncertainty.
Once you’ve written a will, you should review it regularly—and update it if necessary. Assets, relationships and circumstances can change as the years go by, and your will should reflect your current situation, not the one you were in 20, 40 or 60 years before you died. It’s vital to go over your will when life-changing events take place, such as moving in with your partner, getting married, buying a house, getting divorced, having a child, taking on the care of a parent or sick relative.
When reviewing your will, it would also be a good time to review your life insurance policy to ensure it will adequately provide for your loved ones if you were to pass away. A life insurance policy would typically reflect changes in income, liabilities and debts as its main purpose is to help your loved ones continue to live the life you’ve planned for them even when you’re gone. Some life insurance policies provide an advance payout of up to $10,000 that can be used to help with any legal expenses related to settling your will or for more immediate funeral expenses.
Alternatively, if you’re unable to get life insurance cover for whatever reason, a guaranteed acceptance funeral insurance policy can provide a smaller lump sum amount paid out quickly. This can go towards helping cover the cost of your funeral, as well as paying for any legal costs associated with distributing your assets to the people you intended them for.
It’s possible to write a will yourself, however, given the legal nature of a will, it may be a good idea to get the help of a solicitor who knows the law surrounding how to write a will in Australia—or the public trustee in your state. They may be able to raise things and give advice on scenarios that you would’ve never considered.
If you decide to write a will yourself, you must be careful to ensure your will is valid and legally binding.
To be legally binding, a will must be:
These witnesses must be 18 years or older and sound of mind. They must not be executors or beneficiaries of your will, or your de facto partner.
In addition, when planning a will, you should check the laws in your state. One of the important things to remember when considering how to write a will in Australia is that the laws governing wills vary from state to state.
A will gives you the chance to be clear about your wishes, and, in the process, prevent your loved ones from going through stress, anxiety and conflict—while saving money on legal fees and administrative tangles.
At the same time, it’s a chance to make sure that, should anything happen to you, your dependants will be looked after.
Remember, if are unsure about your will’s legality, you should get in touch with a lawyer or public trustee who’s an expert on how to write a will in Australia.