Your will is an important legal document primarily used to detail how your property and estate assets are distributed when you pass away. While will writing services are available, you can always choose to prepare one yourself.
In Australia, intestacy rules will determine what happens with your assets if you die without a valid will (known as dying intestate). These rules can differ between the Australian states, but your next of kin will typically be responsible for your estate. This is why writing a will can be so important, as the law’s distribution of your assets might not match your wishes.
If your will only covers part of your estate, intestacy rules will also apply to the remaining estate.
Who should write a will?
If you’re an Australian over the age of 18, you can make a will. Making a will is a decision for you and unique to your circumstances. If you have a will, consider updating it when your circumstances change (e.g. getting married, divorced, buying a house or having children).
It is also worth considering updating your will if the executor of your will or beneficiary dies, or if your financial situation changes significantly.
Below are some of the benefits of writing a will:
- Leaving your loved ones specific gifts of sentimental value
- Nominating a particular person to be the guardian of your dependent children
- Funeral instructions
- Deciding what to do with your online accounts, memberships, digital records and more.
It’s important to keep your will up to date and stored in a safe place. If you pass away and your will isn’t valid or accessible, intestacy rules will apply, and your assets will be distributed as per the law — which may not align with your wishes.
How to write a will
There are two ways to write a will:
- Write your own will. If you choose to write your own will, you can use templates that are available online or obtain a DIY will kit and fill out the required information. If your will does not meet all the requirements of your state and territory, it may not be valid. In some instances, it may be appropriate for your will to be reviewed by a third party to ensure its validity.
- Have a solicitor or family lawyer draw one up for you. This is the safer, less time-consuming option but also the most expensive. The cost for will preparation varies depending on what your will maker charges and the complexity of your estate. Your state trustee may offer free or inexpensive will-making services. This option is typically better for more complex situations.
A checklist for will preparation
Before you write your will, ask yourself these important questions:
- Who is my power of attorney? Consider who will be your attorney – the individual (or individuals) deputised to make financial decisions on your behalf while you’re alive but might not be able to make decisions yourself. Their powers differ in each state and territory, so you’ll have to check with your local Public Trustee.
- How will my estate be divvied up? Decide who gets what from your estate, including money from different accounts, your superannuation balance and any potential insurance benefits.
- How will my life insurance payout be managed? Keep proof of your life insurance policy somewhere your family can find it. If you do this, it should be relatively straightforward for them to contact your insurer claim on your life insurance policy once they have a death certificate.
- How can I ensure my instructions are followed? Ratify your will through a solicitor or Public Trustee to ensure your instructions are clear and binding.
- Have I left clear, written instructions for my family? Aside from your will, ASIC recommends leaving clear instructions for your family to find the following important documents:1
- Pre-paid funeral arrangements
- Bank account details
- Birth certificate
- Deeds and insurance policies for any other real estate you own
- Home and contents insurance
- House deeds
- Investment documents (securities, share certificates, bonds)
- Life insurance policies
- Marriage certificate
- Medical insurance details
- Medicare card
- Pensioner concession card
- Superannuation documentation
Preparing your life insurance in advance
It’s natural to worry about your passing, especially if your family would struggle with bills, mortgage repayments or maintaining their current lifestyle. If you’re concerned that you won’t have enough to leave to your family when you pass away, a life insurance policy could help provide some peace of mind that your family could be protected financially if something happened to you. Generally, benefits paid under a life insurance policy are dealt with separately from your will.
If you’re considering how to write a will, it may be a good time to consider whether a life insurance policy is right for you. You can use our life insurance comparison tool to compare quotes and policies in only minutes.
Disclaimer: The information here is general in nature and intended to be a guide only. The information provided does not constitute legal and/or financial advice.