Wills: What, Why, When and How

by Andrew Stewart & Lisa Hermon - Morrison Kent

What is a Will?

A Will is a legal document that sets out your wishes once you’ve died and may include:
  1. Any funeral instructions you may have (including whether you would like your body to be buried or cremated).
  2. The person or people you would like to appoint to be responsible for the distribution of your estate (known as your executor(s)).
  3. The person or people you wish to appoint as testamentary guardian(s) of your children.
  4. How you wish your money, possessions, property and anything else you personally own (together called your “estate”) to be distributed after you die.

Why should I make a Will?

Death can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss and it’s easy for a Will to fall to the bottom of your priority list.

Having said that, the situation that arises when a person dies without a Will (called dying “intestate”) can be costly and stressful for loved ones who are already struggling at the time. The Courts will appoint someone (usually a family member) to administer your estate and this may not be the person you would have chosen. Even if it is, your estate will be distributed according to a set formula, which may not take care of your loved ones as you would have wanted.

By contrast, a Will enables your affairs to be administered in an orderly fashion, with certainty, and allows you to choose people you trust to be the executor(s) of your estate. An executor is the person that will be responsible for administering your estate and ensuring your wishes are fulfilled.

If you have young children, one of the most important reasons for having a Will is so that you can choose who to appoint as their testamentary guardian. This person will be able to help make big decisions for and with your children (along with any other guardians), in respect of things like health, education and welfare.

When should I get a Will?

If you own assets, you should have a Will now.

There are a number of events that may “trigger” the need for you to get a Will or have your existing Will updated. These include entering into a de facto relationship or civil union, getting married (or separated), having a child, selling or purchasing a property or business or any other significant life event, including one that significantly changes the value of your estate.

Contrary to popular belief, a Will is not a “forever” document. For example, an existing Will will be revoked by marriage, unless it has been expressly prepared in contemplation of that marriage. See How do Changes in my Relationships Affect my Will?

We recommend that you review your Will every three to five years. It will not necessarily need to be updated, but as health, relationships and priorities change over time it is important that your Will reflects these changed circumstances.

How do I get a Will?

Our team is more than happy to assist you with preparing or updating your Will. We are familiar with the criteria that must be met for a Will to be valid and where your situation is more complex, we are able to advise you on matters to consider in order to prevent any issues arising in the future.

If you have any questions about these matters, please contact either of the article authors, Andrew Stewartor Lisa Hermon or the Morrison Kent Wellington office (04) 472-0020. 

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