Your guide to writing a will
Writing your will might be something you’ve had on your ‘meaning-to-do’ list but never quite get to because there always seems to be something more important to do and, let’s face it, the subject matter isn’t the most inspirational. However, writing a will can be one of the most important – and positive – things you can do for the people you love; an opportunity to help them avoid unnecessary confusion, delays, disagreements and fees during a time of significant stress.
A survey conducted by finder.com.au in 2018 found a staggering 52 per cent of Australians don’t have a will. That’s nearly 10,000,000 people who are potentially leaving the fate of distributing their estate in the hands of state laws. One of the reasons people gave for not writing a will was ‘I don’t have enough assets to justify it’. Yet, there are good reasons to write a will as early as possible.
What does ‘dying intestate’ mean?
The term ‘dying intestate’ means dying without a will. When this happens, the future of your estate, your assets and possessions is decided not by you but by the intestacy laws of your state or territory – NSW, VIC, QLD, ACT, NT, SA and TAS.
While in most cases your assets will go to your next of kin – a partner, your children or your parents – the rules can be quite complex and the process isn’t automatic, which means your loved ones will have to fill out paperwork, such as letters of administration, to get the ball rolling. This can result in delays during an already difficult time.
Don’t have any relatives? Then the government could end up with your well-earned assets.
When should I begin planning my will?
If you’ve worked hard to build a life for yourself and your loved ones, then it follows that you’ll want to make sure that the efforts you’ve put in benefit the people you care about the most when you’re gone. So, if you want to help make sure your assets are handled in a specific way, then it’s a good idea to write a will sooner rather than later – anyone who’s over 18 can write one.
But what if you don’t have any assets or dependants – or anything you think is worth much? It’s still a good idea to write a will because your possessions can mean a lot to those you’ve left behind. Deciding who gets what beforehand can nip in the bud any unnecessary angst later on. Also, many Australians over 18 have a least some superannuation put away, and they might even have a life insurance policy as part of it.
Although, keep in mind that a life insurance policy that is part of your superannuation arrangements doesn’t automatically form part of your estate. You’ll need to communicate in writing to your superannuation fund any beneficiaries.
Planning a will while you’re healthy and of sound mind can be an important part of your overall financial plan.
What should I include in my will?
You can of course include anything you want in your will, but these are the bigger picture concerns you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Who will inherit your assets? It’s recommended that you take an inventory of your assets before you start, which can then be updated every time you review your will. Things to put on the list would include car, property, valuable possessions such as a collection of musical instruments, jewellery, plus details of all your bank accounts and/or shares.
- Name an executor of your will. They’ll be someone you trust to take care of the distribution of your estate as you’ve stipulated in your will.
- Details of your preferred funeral arrangements.
- If you have children under 18, pets or anyone else under your care (such as sick parents), include details of who will take care of them in your absence.
Who can help me write my will?
The good news is, there’s lots of help at hand, and that includes the public trustee in your state – NSW, VIC, QLD, ACT, NT, SA and TAS. Given the legal nature of a will, it may well be worth contacting them for assistance – or perhaps even a good solicitor who knows the law around how to write a will in Australia. With their help, you may be able to get advice on things you haven’t even considered.
You may have noticed there are also a number of DIY will kits online, which perhaps you’d prefer to use. Just remember your will needs to be valid and legally binding as an invalid will can put your loved ones in the same position they would be in if you didn’t leave one at all.
How do I know if my will is legally binding?
A will is legally binding when 1) it’s in writing and 2) it’s signed by you in the presence of two witnesses who must also sign it. Witnesses must be 18 years or older and of sound mind. Also, they can’t be beneficiaries of your will or your de facto partner.
It’s important that you let your close family members know that your will exists and where it is kept. After all, if no one knows about it, it’s quite useless. Of course, if you hire a solicitor to help with your will, they’re likely to keep an official copy in their offices. To administer your estate, an executor will need the original copy – not a photocopy.
What happens if my circumstances change?
A will isn’t a set-and-forget matter and will have to be updated from time to time to take into consideration any changing circumstances, such as new assets, moving in with a partner, getting married, having children or taking on the primary care of a sick relative.
While you’re reviewing your will, it may also be a good time to review your insurance policies. Are they still appropriate for your present circumstances? Will they still help your loved ones meet their financial obligations should you pass away, such as medical bills and funeral expenses, a mortgage or personal loans – and any other income needed to meet daily expenses in your absence?
Future planning puts you in the driver’s seat
While it might not be top of your list of things you want to do, planning a will gives you some control over your future, and is a key component of financial literacy and managing your money wisely. It’s a chance to be clear about what you want to happen to your assets when you leave and, in the process, it provides support for the people you care about most, helping to prevent unnecessary stress, anxiety and conflict, as well as administrative fees and tangles.
There are many different ways you can help protect you and your family from future uncertainty. Explore AAMI life products online, or call the AAMI Life team on 13 22 44 to discover which options best suit you.
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