What you need to know about wills

Date: Nov 27, 2014

A will is a legal document that describes in detail to whom your assets will go in the event of your death.

The Law Society of New South Wales recommends that people aged 18 or over, or those who are under 18 and considering getting or are already married, should prepare a will.

Australians under the age of 18 who are not married can set up a will, provided they get court approval. The Law Society says that those earning "large sums of money" through jobs such as acting and modelling may want to consider doing so.

You will need to have testamentary capacity to organise a will - this basically means that you are legally and mentally able to create or modify a will.

As long as you can demonstrate that you understand the nature of your estate and the nature and effect of preparing and signing a will, you should be all right.

People can dispute a will on the grounds of testamentary capacity, so it may important that you can prove in some way that you are of sound mind when preparing or changing your will.

A common question that people who are thinking about creating a will ask is whether they can alter their will once it has been made. The answer: absolutely. In fact, you should regularly check and, if need be, change your will to reflect your current circumstances.

The Law Council recommends doing so approximately every five years, or when a life-changing event takes place: you get married or divorced, have a child, buy a house, start a business, travel or retire.

A lawyer can assist you with your estate planning needs, such as reviewing your will, and be on-hand to help you alter it if necessary.

According to the NSW Trustee & Guardian, around 45 per cent of Australians do not currently have a will.

If you die without having organised a will, this is called dying "intestate". What usually happens in such an event is that your assets are divided in accordance with a pre-determined government formula.

Particular relatives will be provided with a defined percentage of your estate, or if none exist, your assets will be received by the NSW government.

Organising a will could give you peace of mind - you will know that your assets are going where you believe they're most needed, and estate disputes may be less likely to occur.