A will is one of the most important legal documents you’ll make. It generally details:
- what you wish to happen to your estate after your death, including the distribution of assets
- the executor (or co-executors) who you entrust to carry out those wishes
- your nominated guardian and the terms of any trust set up for your children or other beneficiaries
- any specific funeral or memorial preferences
Storing your will in a safe place, as well as letting your executor, beneficiaries and family know where it’s located, is vital.
A will serves no purpose if its existence is unknown
Keeping it at home risks your will being lost, damaged or stolen. If a will can’t be located, the risks can include:
- your assets won’t be distributed as you intended
- there could be additional legal costs incurred after your death
Many people choose to store their will with their solicitor. There are also safe-storage services, including that offered by NSW Trustee & Guardian.
Reviewing your will
It's recommended to review your will every 5 years or whenever there's a significant event or change in your life.
This could be when getting married, having children, changes to your financial situation, separating or divorcing, moving overseas or the passing of a loved one.
In these situations, the terms of your will may be impacted so it's important to ensure it reflects your current circumstances.
If you die without a will you don’t have any say about how your estate is distributed. This is called dying intestate.
In this situation, your affairs may be managed by a court-appointed administrator. This could be:
- the person with the largest share in the estate
- multiple people if the court considers that appropriate
- NSW Trustee & Guardian in certain circumstances
- any person the court thinks is suitable
If disputes occur, the process can take time and be costly, both in financial and emotional terms.
When there is no will, certain family members and next of kin generally receive a defined amount or proportion of your assets according to a set formula. Additionally:
- if you're in a defacto relationship, it's necessary to supply sworn evidence that the relationship existed
- intestacy (dying without a will) rules differ depending on whether you have children from a previous relationship or whether you only have children from your spouse at your death
If your only living relatives are more distant than first cousins, your estate could pass to the government
Costs to prepare a will vary depending on several factors, including:
- how extensive your estate is
- the structure and nature of your assets
- how simple or complex your wishes are for the distribution of these assets
As a price guide, NSW Trustee & Guardian charges a set fee of around $330 to create a will, and $220 for updates to wills they create.
However, their will preparation services are free for people eligible for a full Centrelink age pension, including people receiving other government benefits, such as a Department of Veterans' Affairs pension, who would otherwise be eligible for a full Centrelink age pension.
You may also want to consider:
- do it yourself kits, which start at around $50, but it's strongly recommended you get it checked by a professional to make sure it's accurate and valid
- online services, which are reviewed by a legal expert, can cost from $200 to $400 or more, with an annual subscription for ongoing updates
- solicitors, who can charge from a few hundred to several thousand dollars or more, depending on your circumstances