Preparing a will - what you need to know

Date: Apr 22, 2013

Writing a will is a central part of estate planning, ensuring you have a legal document that outlines how and to whom you pass on your assets after death.

While it can be difficult to contemplate these issues, failing to make your wishes clear can result in confusion, arguments and legal disputes should the unthinkable happen.

It is particularly important to complete a will if you have a family or other dependents, as they may be left with a smaller proportion of your estate than if you had taken the time to put pen to paper.

Writing a valid will

Making sure you have a valid will reduce the chance of estate disputes when you die. As such, the document will need to be accepted by a court and executed by a grant of probate.

Additionally, it must be:

• written down - by hand, typed or printed are all fine
• signed, ideally with a handwritten signature
• witnessed - two people must witness you signing the will, as well as signing it themselves in your presence and the presence of each other.

Should you fail to write your will under these circumstances, it may not be  a valid will.

Changing a will

Drawing up a will is important, but it is just as necessary to keep it up to date, especially when your circumstances change in a significant way.

This may include getting divorced, having children, moving overseas or starting up a new business - and you cannot simply  delete a previous provision and write your new wishes in.

A codicil, a separate document outlining will amendments, can be drafted if the changes are very minor - but this will still need to be signed in front of two witnesses. A new will should be written for anything more significant than this.

Selecting an executor

Appointing an executor helps ensure that your wishes are carried out in the manner in which you have outlined in your will.

An estates lawyer can be your executor, although you may instead want it to be a spouse, relative or friend - but always inform them first to ensure they are willing to take on the responsibility.

There are a number of duties that an executor may be required to fulfil.

• Paying outstanding debts and taxes
• Making funeral arrangements
• Organising property settlement arrangements
• Securing your assets, including valuables and property
• Distributing assets according to your will