COVID-19 may be bringing uncertainty and worry for our families and ourselves.
At the same time, the enforced isolation is giving us the opportunity to do things we’ve been putting off. Like, writing a will! It’s easier than learning a language or a musical instrument, and much more interesting than doing your taxes.
1. Understand what happens if you or your partner die without a will in place
A will does one main thing – it gives you the power to decide who gets what when you pass away.
Many people think preparing a will is too morbid and time-consuming.
If you pass away without a will (this is called intestate), your assets will be distributed according to a pre-determined formula, and certain family members will receive a defined percentage of your assets. The formula takes into account the variations of life – a spouse, a partner but not divorced from a spouse, children, other relatives etc.
If you want to have a say, preparing your own will is the way to do it. You might have major assets – a house, money, family business, investments, heirloom jewelry. Dying without a will could result in those assets leaving the family. If that’s what you intend, that’s fine. But if not, it’s your responsibility to set it up now.
You might also have sentimental items, like Grandma’s cherished dinner set or her ‘good’ watch.
Whatever it is, it’s important for you to decide what you want to do with it. That’s the benefit of a will. Ultimately, what belongs to you now will one day belong to someone else. You might as well choose who that is.
You may have seen our previous article To will, or not to will – that is the question where we demonstrate the lives of two people, Andrew who had a will, and Peter who did not have a will.
2. Understand the requirements
• You must be 18 unless you’re married.
• You must have ‘testamentary capacity’. This means you know the legal effect of a will, know the extent of your assets, are aware of the people who would normally expect to benefit from your estate. You must also be able to reach rational decisions as to who will benefit.
3. Make lists
This can take a couple of hours but it’s time well spent and probably easier than you expect.
• Write a list of all your assets, such as your property, bank accounts, superannuation and investments.
• Allocate each asset to one or more of your beneficiaries. A beneficiary is the person who will receive your assets. If there’s more than one beneficiary for an asset, make sure you specify the proportion. For example, 50% of the family business to each of your two children.
• List gifts you wish to make to particular people or organisations, such as personal items or sums of money to a charity. If it has some value to you and you know someone wants it, write it down.
• Include contact details of beneficiaries.
• If you have children under 18, include the name/s of who you’d like to appoint as their guardian(s).
You also need to name a responsible or competent executor. Choose a friend, relative, or an independent trustee like NSW Trustee & Guardian. They’ll have the job of delivering your wishes – collecting the estate assets, paying debts and distributing your gifts to your beneficiaries.
4. Make other important decisions
If you still have stamina after this, think about your preference for a funeral or other arrangements and add them to your will. For example, music – there’s the traditional route like Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’, or ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ from the film Beaches. Or, like someone’s uncle, request the Monty Python song ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and bring down the house in shocked tears and laughter.
Think about photos – choose ones you like or those with meaning. And if you have a firm view about a wake, write that in too.
5. Make an appointment with your solicitor
Gather all your documents and your identification. This includes a birth certificate or passport.
When booking your appointment, check with your solicitor to ensure you have everything you need before your appointment.
A tip: don’t leave it until the last minute to find a certain document.
For sure it’ll be the one thing you won’t be able to find until the day after the appointment has passed.
To make this process easier for our clients CM Lawyers will send a team of two to meet with you in your home. Our professional staff are briefed on the guidelines for social distancing and recommended sanitation practices.
6. To quote John Lennon, ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’.
Life circumstances change so review your will regularly and update it. Too many times people have changed partners but haven’t changed their will – and their family or new partner misses out. Once you’ve put your will in place, it’ll only need a quick check. Pick a date – say January 1 – and use that day to make sure it’s still current.
If you or anyone you know may be looking to create a will or need other legal advice please, contact us at CM Lawyers.