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Who should write a will?

If you’re an Australian over the age of 18, then you should consider having a will. You should also consider updating your will when your circumstances change, e.g.  get married, divorced, buy a house or have children.

Further updates should be made if your executor or beneficiary dies, or if your financial situation changes significantly.

The benefits of writing a will can include:

  • you get to decide how your money and assets are distributed,
  • who will be the guardian of your children, and
  • funeral instructions and more.

It’s important to have an up-to-date will, because if you pass away without one, the law decides who will receive your assets – and this decision may not align with your wishes.

How to write a will

There are two ways to write a will:

  • Write a will yourself. First, go online, find a free template or buy a DIY will kit. Second, follow the structure and fill in the fields. Third, have it signed by two witnesses (not related to you). However, this doesn’t mean your will is valid. Consider having a solicitor or private trustee check over it. Furthermore, the Australia government advises – when writing your will – you follow the rules from the public trustee in your state or territory.
  • Have a solicitor or family lawyer draw one up for you. This is a safe option but also the most expensive. The cost for will preparation will vary, depending on what your solicitor charges and the complexity of your estate. Your state’s public trustee may offer free or inexpensive will-making services.

N.B. The public trustee is a statutory authority that exists to support people with their wills and other financial needs.

To include in your will…Some important things to consider…
Personal directions (e.g. funeral arrangements, charity donations)Superannuation payouts
Guardianship of your childrenLife insurance payouts
Creation of trusts (i.e. split up assets and money for your family)Distribution of trust deeds
Assets you solely hold that you wish to pass onAssets you hold with someone else, and how these should be handled

A checklist for will preparation

Before you write your will,  ask yourself these important questions.

  1. Who will manage my estate? Consider who will be given General, Enduring or Medical Power of Attorney. The individual (or individuals) deputised to make health and financial decisions in the event of your death or incapacitation. Their powers differ per state and territory, so you will have to check with your local Public Trustee.
  2. How will my estate be divvied up? Decide who gets what from your estate. Who gets money from different accounts, your superannuation balance and insurance payouts. Plus, who should inherit your assets and how your debts should be paid out.
  3. How will my life insurance payout be managed? Keep proof of your standalone life insurance policy somewhere your family members can find it. Provided you do this, it should be relatively straightforward for them to claim on your life insurance policy once they have a death certificate – they need only get in touch with your insurer.
  4. How can I ensure my instructions are followed? Ratify your will through a solicitor or public trustee to make sure your instructions are clear and binding.
  5. Have I left clear, written instructions for my family? Make sure you’ve collated and prepared the following, according to ASIC.2
    • advance healthcare directive (also called a living will)
    • pre-paid funeral arrangements
    • bank account details
    • birth certificate
    • deeds and insurance policies for any other real estate you own
    • enduring power of attorney
    • 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

Frequently asked questions

What makes a will you’ve written yourself valid?

Once again, it’s not mandatory to enlist the help of a solicitor to prepare your will . If going it alone, please ensure your will is:

  • clearly handwritten or typed;
  • signed at the bottom of each page and at the end; and
  • witnessed by two people.

The witnesses must attest that they witnessed you sign the will and you appeared to be of sound mind, then sign the will themselves. Witnesses cannot be beneficiaries or direct relations.

To find out more information, please contact the public trustee in your state or territory.

Who is the ‘executor’ of my will?

An executor is the appointed person entrusted by the deceased to carry out the instructions left in the will. The public trustee statutory authority in your state or territory steps in if there’s no executor or the executor declines his or her duties.

What is an estate plan?

A will and an estate plan are not the same – although they do go hand in hand. An estate plan is a comprehensive plan for your passing, which is inclusive of your will.

In your estate plan, you’ll make a will, walk through your binding nominations for superannuation and insurance proceeds, organise powers of attorney and health directives, and more (you may need a solicitor’s help). As such, you’ll develop a will when you consider estate planning.

ASIC suggests that two chief goals of estate planning are to:2

(a) minimise arguments amongst family members through clear, written directions; and
(b) reduce the tax burden of your beneficiaries.

Do you need a lawyer to make a will?

The shorter answer is technically no but consider having a solicitor or private trutee look over the will you wrote yourself.

Who gets my life insurance if I die?

Life insurance can be a key part of what you leave behind, however, it’s separate to your will. This product has the potential to pay a cash sum to your beneficiary after your death, or if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Remember, life insurance payouts to beneficiaries are dictated by what’s detailed in your policy – not the will.

Is a life insurance payout affected by your will?

Your life insurance payout will go to the beneficiaries cited on your policy – not your will. Be aware: where there is a conflict or ambiguity between the two documents, your payout may go towards something you didn’t intend (e.g. one party over another).

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.

That’s why life insurance can be an enormous relief for them during a difficult time.

However, it’s better to find a policy while you still have a clean bill of health. For example, there are two types of premium structures: stepped and level.

  • Stepped premiums increase each year
  • Level premiums stay the same but cost more to begin with

If you were to take out life insurance while you were still relatively young and healthy – with a view to maintaining cover for the long haul – level premiums might be a smart choice. If, however, you’re a bit older, stepped premiums may be more suitable. Read your insurer’s Policy Disclosure Statement (PDS) to ensure the product is right for you.

Are you ready to compare and buy life insurance?

If you’re considering how to write a will, make sure you also consider life insurance. Use our free comparison tool to get an idea about prices. Comparing life insurance with us only takes minutes.

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