Nicola Middlemiss

Nicola Middlemiss

17/05/2022

A will is a legal document that lays out what you would like to happen after you die. Here’s everything you need to know.

A will (sometimes called a last will and testament) lets people know what you would like to happen after you die.

Usually, it will include information about who should inherit any money or assets you have, what arrangements you would like for your funeral, and how your children or pets should be looked after.

Wills are legal documents. They ensure your final wishes will not be ignored. This guide covers everything you need to know about wills, including:

Do I need a will?
What’s included in my will?
What is not included in my will?
What happens if I don’t have a will?
Steps for creating a will
Can I change my will?
FAQ

Do I need a will?

Everyone, no matter how much money they have, can benefit from writing a will. It’s not a legal requirement but it’s definitely a good idea.

Some key motivations for writing a will include:

  • You can choose who gets your assets. Without a will, your assets will be divided among your next of kin. If you don’t have any next of kin, it may go to the government.
  • You can name guardians for your children and pets. Who would you want looking after your nearest and dearest?
  • It makes things easier for your beneficiaries. With a will, you can choose an executor to handle your estate and leave information on what you’d like done with it. If not, a court will name an administrator.
  • It lowers the potential for disputes. Without a will, your final wishes may be unclear. Friends and family could end up arguing or even falling out altogether.

What’s included in my will?

A will outlines your various wishes for when you die. These typically include:

  • Instructions for who gets your assets. You can specify who gets inheritance, what they get, or how much they get. You can even include conditions. For example, you may put money aside to be used by children solely for education purposes.
  • Choice of executor. You can appoint an executor to administer your estate after you die. An executor makes sure your final wishes are upheld.
  • Guardianship for children. You can name the person you want to look after your children (and even your pets) after you die.
  • Instructions for your funeral. You can include specific wishes for your funeral. While they’re not legally binding, it’s still an effective way to inform your loved ones of your wishes.

What is not included in my will?

There are certain things you can’t include in a will. These include:

  • Property and assets that you hold jointly with someone else
  • Any account or policy that has its own beneficiary – such as life insurance policies or super funds
  • Assets you’ve transferred to a trust
  • Assets owned by a company

What happens if I don’t have a will?

If you die without having made a valid will, it’s known as dying intestate. If this happens, your deceased estate will be administered according to your state’s intestacy laws.

These laws vary slightly in each Australian state and territory, with different ways of deciding who your next of kin is and how much they will inherit.

Typically, your estate will be split between your spouse and children. If you have no spouse or children, the state will then determine which eligible relatives.

If you have no eligible relatives, the government will receive your estate. For many people, this default distribution will not reflect their exact wishes.

Steps for creating a will

Creating a will doesn’t have to be overly complicated or expensive. You can even create one for free.

There are some basic steps that can make the process smoother though:

  • Take inventory of everything you own. Your will outlines where you want your money, assets and belongings to go. Take note of everything so you can make a plan for it all.
  • Choose your beneficiaries and determine the gifts they will receive. You can pass your assets on to more people than just your kids. Think about things that might be important to specific people and consider charities or causes that are close to your heart.
  • Decide and name guardians for any children or pets you have. It’s also important to let them know about your plans. You want the people you name to be able and willing to look after your kids or pets if the time comes.
  • Choose an executor. This person will carry out the wishes in your will so choose them carefully. Often, it’s a close friend, family member or spouse who you trust to be responsible and has enough time to devote to the task. If your estate is complicated, you may want to name an attorney or use executor services. Whoever you choose, make sure to notify them.
  • Sign your will and have at least two witnesses sign it. If you don’t, your will won’t be legally valid. Witnesses need to be over the age of 18 and mentally sound to confirm that you are signing your own will. It is important to choose people who are impartial – so your witnesses can’t be named in the will.
  • Store your will in a safe place. The best option would be to store it in a fireproof safe, or you could leave it in a safety deposit box at a bank. Either way you should inform your executor or someone you trust where it can be found.

Can I change my will?

Yes. You change your will whenever you like or you can write a new one entirely.

You should review your will every few years, after major sales and purchases, and if close relationships change.

For example, you may wish to review it following the sale of a house, a marriage or divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of a beneficiary.

To make minor changes, you can use a codicil. A codicil is attached to your existing will and typically outlines smaller amendments or updates. If you have more significant changes to make, it’s probably a better idea to write an entirely new will.

FAQs about wills

Do I need an attorney to write a will?
No. You can write a will without any help from a legal professional as long as its signed and witnessed by two impartial people. However, if you have complicated or unusual financial affairs, it might be worth speaking to a lawyer.

How much do wills cost?
The cost of writing a will varies. Our online will-writing platform is completely free and will be legally valid as long as you follow the instructions.
The cost of hiring a will lawyer to prepare your will in Australia can vary widely between $500 and $3,000 depending on your requirements.

How long do wills last?
Will have no expiration date, but they can be revoked at any time, usually by creating a newer will.

What’s the difference between a will and a living will?
A living will outlines your preferences for end-of-life care in case you’re unable to communicate for yourself. This can include preferences for medical decisions, pain management, and organ donation. A will, on the other hand, outlines your wishes for after your death. It can include information about where your assets should go and what your funeral should be like.

What do executors of wills do?
An executor administers a deceased estate in line with the wishes in their will. Their role is to wrap up the dead person’s personal, financial, and legal affairs and oversee the distribution of assets to beneficiaries.

How long do wills take to settle?
It usually takes around nine months to one year to settle a deceased estate as per the wishes of a will. This may take less time for simple, straight-forward cases or take longer for more complicated estates.

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