So, you want to know about Wills?
Wills. They’re one of those things in life that you kind-of know about. Until you realise you don’t.
Writing a Will has been part of our civilisation and culture for thousands of years. While you are alive, having a Will can give you huge peace of mind. And, after your death, they can save your loved ones from uncertainty (at best) and major family conflict (at worst).
Here’s a rundown on the purpose and history of Wills, as well as a how-to guide for making yours.
What is a Will?
A Will is a document that contains your instructions for what happens to your assets after your death. You know, things like money, property and cars, as well as possessions that have more sentimental than monetary value. And, because this is real life not a movie, your Will is also the mechanism for dealing with any debts you leave when you die.
If you’re a parent of children aged under 18, your Will is the place to specify who should look after them until they reach adulthood. This person is known as a ‘guardian’. A Will can also include your wishes for your pets and your funeral.
Wills are sometimes called a ‘testament’ – you’ve probably heard in lots of movies and tv shows the line: ‘your last Will and testament’. When made properly, a Will is legally binding.
A potted history of Wills
These days, Wills and the laws associated with them are relatively standard across Australia (though there are some differences across states and territories).
That wasn’t the case when they were new. In Ancient Greece, Athens allowed citizens to choose who to bequeath their estate to, but only if they were a free man (sorry, women and slaves).
Though some ancient Wills were made in writing, at other times a Will would be declared verbally, in front of an assembly. Thank goodness that’s no longer the case! Though the idea of signing your Will in front of witnesses remains.
The first legislation about Wills in the UK was made in the mid-1800s. Today, Australian Wills are governed by state and territory based legislation (that you do not have to read!).
Who should make a Will and what happens if I don’t?
Ideally, everyone over the age of 18 should have a Will. Sure, your only assets at this stage might be a bomb of a car and the $20 note you left in your jeans pocket after your last big night out. But it’s still a good idea and, once you have a Will (especially if you made it online), it’s easy to update it when your circumstances change.
If you die without a Will, you’ll have made things harder for those you leave behind. The official term is ‘dying intestate’. No, that doesn’t mean you died while on holiday, the term comes from the Latin (don’t they all?!) for ‘in-’, meaning ‘not’ and ‘-testatus’, meaning ‘having borne witness’.
The rules of intestacy specify that your immediate family will each receive an even share of your assets. That might seem just simple and fine to you at a surface level but things get tricky if you have children, family heirlooms or more debts than assets. It also makes it more likely that settling your affairs will end up in court, which is often a lose-lose outcome for everyone (just think of the lawyers fees!).
You’ve convinced me! How do I go about making my Will?
There used to be two options: seeing a lawyer or using a paper-based DIY Will kit. While these are still valid options, in recent years a third option has become available.
The new kid on the block is online Wills. Making your Will online is low-cost and convenient. You’ll be guided through the essentials and given the option of completing more detail, particularly when it comes to things like leaving gifts or assigning guardians for your pets. And, as you move through your life milestones, it is easy to jump back in to update sections as needed.
Most experts involved with Wills encourage you to do some preparation before you start to make your Will. Things like gathering a list of your assets (and debts), choosing who you’ll leave these to (your beneficiaries), who you would like to be the guardian for your children (or pets) and who in your life is best placed to do the admin (your ‘executor’). You’ll find a good guide here: https://www.willed.com.au/guides/4-things-to-start-writing-your-will
That’s great advice but, for those who prefer to jump in feet first, online platforms like Willed allow you to get started today, and then return to complete your Will after doing the needed thinking and decision making.
That’s it? But wait, there’s more!
While you’re in the zone of planning ahead, there are some other tasks worth doing. No matter what your age, making your Will is a great time to discuss your wishes with your chosen executor and other loved ones. It’s also time to ensure you have nominated a beneficiary for who will receive any life insurance (a ‘beneficiary’) and your superannuation (‘a binding death benefit nomination’) as these are dealt with separately to your other assets.
And, seeing we’re in the 21st century, not Ancient Greece, it’s worth thinking about your digital legacy – what will happen to your social accounts after your death. Willed has you covered with this comprehensive guide.
Ready to make your Will? Jump onto willed.com.au today.