Hi Lifehacker, what's the cheapest and easiest way around making a will? Can I just write down what I want to have done when I die and then have it signed by a witness or a JP? Or are lawyers needed no matter what? Thanks, Deadly Serious
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According to recent studies, around 50 per cent of Australians do not currently have a valid will. It's one of those things that people tend to put off so they don't have to sit around thinking about their fleeting mortality. Unfortunately, this outlook has the potential to come back and bite them in their cold, lifeless bums.
When you die intestate (a legal term for "without a will"), your estate and assets will be distributed according to a pre-determined formula. This means that a relative you hate could end up getting a slice of the pie, or even worse; the government.
To be considered a legally binding document, a will needs to pass certain criteria. Naturally, it must be in writing, include your signature and be dated at the time of signing. While a typed or printed will is the norm, handwriting is still acceptable.
In addition to your own signature, it must also be signed by two or more witnesses. It is strongly recommended that the witnesses are not named in the will, as this could compromise their entitlement in the event of a dispute. In other words, use non-relatives who have no ties to your beneficiaries. You can also request impartial witnesses from a professional will-making service such as the NSW Trustee & Guardian department.
You must also have "testamentary capacity". This involves more than being sound of mind; you need to know the full extent of your assets and fully understand the legal effect of the will. There are plenty of online resources that can help you in this area including sample wills to give you an idea of the preferred format.
You'll want to include physical assets such as a house, vehicles and jewellery, financial assets such as shares or bank savings and sentimental assets such as heirlooms and homemade gifts. Naturally, you should also make a note of any outstanding loans and other liabilities you have.
Once everything is fully mapped out, you need to appoint an executor who will be in charge of carrying out the terms of your will. This should be a trusted family member who is likely to outlive you. (Note: they need to be over 18.)
While it is possible to produce a will without involving lawyers or other professionals, the potential for it to be disputed is obviously higher. Also bear in mind that the law surrounding wills is slightly different in each state. In addition, certain life changes can void an existing will, such as divorcing your spouse. It's therefore essential to do plenty of research.
If you're paranoid about something going wrong or don't trust your relatives, you might want to purchase a will kit from a reputable provider. These are relatively affordable (especially compared to hiring a lawyer) and will provide step-by-step instructions complete with detailed templates.
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