Till Death Do Us Part – Guide to your legal will

Australians’ “she’ll-be-right” attitude to life may be creating unnecessary angst when we die. More than 45 per cent of us don’t have a will, which means we risk any assets being distributed according to a government formula, not necessarily our wishes.

If you want to make sure everything you have worked hard for is passed on to loved ones as intended, you need a valid legal will.

There are a few ways to get your affairs in order. The simplest and cheapest is a DIY legal will kit, available from post offices or online for (up to) about $50. But beware, elaborate calligraphy and fancy parchment do not maketh a legally binding document. You need to be sure it is legible, up to date, completed accurately and witnessed correctly (family members or beneficiaries cannot be witnesses). Even small errors can cause big problems. Essentially, DIY documents are designed for the most basic estates — such as a house and contents only, left to a partner or children.

If you or your spouse have children from a previous relationship, contentious family issues or own assets beyond your house, such as shares, other property, super or life insurance, or a family trust, your money will be well spent on getting your legal will drawn up by a solicitor. The more complex your personal scenario the more it is likely to cost, but you can expect to spend at least $500. But this expert advice is likely to save your family and other beneficiaries much more in both money and stress down the track.

You can also use your state’s public trustee to draw up your legal will, usually for free, but they can baulk at complex legal wills. Just check beforehand whether you are then required to use the public trustee as your executor and how much that will cost your estate.

All legal wills require an executor, the person who represents you and makes sure your legal will is followed and any debts paid. It can be a family member or a legal representative. If choosing a family member, make sure you have a back-up should your chosen executor pass away before you do.

A legal will also needs to keep up with your personal circumstances, including marriage, a defacto relationship, divorce, new children or a change in assets.

The key when making your legal will is to be as specific as possible about your intentions. It may be uncomfortable contemplating your own passing but it ensures legal battles are not part of the legacy you leave behind.


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