Do I Need a Will? The Importance Of Having A Legal Will

Here's what happens when you don't a will. You'll learn why you need a will, even if you don't think you do.

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One of the biggest mistakes people make is not ensuring they have a legal will. A legal document that outlines how your assets will be distributed when you pass, not having one could mean you have absolutely no say in how your estate (bank accounts, your home, your land, your car) is handled upon your death.

While many people believe wills are just for those who have lots of property, money or other assets, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather, it’s a positive thing everyone should do to ensure the people you care about are provided for and so you can decide what particular items or belongings are left to which people.

This helps to take the guesswork out of the decision by clearly articulating your wishes. Wills also allow you to appoint an executor, who will carry out the instructions in your will, and leave a gift to charity if you wish.

The most important thing to remember is that wills are not just about money. Plenty of families have sentimental items, whether that’s jewelry, artwork or even some dinner plates or photographs that have been passed down between the generations. If there is someone specific you wish to pass those moments down to, you absolutely must outline this out clearly.

Making a will

A will is one of the most important documents you will ever create. However, many people put it in the ‘too hard’ basket or simply don’t see the importance of making one. Yet, it’s not as hard as it seems.

The most important thing to remember is that the will must be in writing, must be signed in front of witnesses and must be dated at the time of signing.

There are also some other elements that need to be included:

  • Your full name and address
  • The full name and address of your executors
  • You must have the mental capacity to create the will. This means you cannot be suffering from any disorder of the mind. 

You should consider revisiting your will throughout your life. It’s not done and dusted just because it’s signed. Circumstances change and your will should be updated accordingly, especially around marriage, divorce, and someone else’s passing.

What can be included in your will?

As mentioned, a will is about more than money and property. However, you should carefully think about what assets you own and ensure they are all included. This avoids anyone arguing over who gets what when you pass away.

If you don’t want to specify every single thing, there are phrases you can use that encompass all of your property, of any kind. If in doubt, speak to your lawyer about how best to phrase this to avoid any doubt.

When it comes to your children, you should always make arrangements for them. Appoint a guardian for your child should you die before they become of adult age. The guardian should be someone you trust completely with the raising of your child so consider this decision very carefully.

Finally, you can choose to incorporate in your will any bequests you wish to make to the charity. Leaving a bequest is a lovely way to show your support for an important cause and is quite common. There are several types of bequests you can leave:

  • Residual bequest
  • A percentage of your estate
  • A specific sum of money
  • Property or shares 

Making a will does not need to be an expensive exercise, however, it does need to be done properly. This means that you should consult a legal representative if you’re ever in doubt.

The benefits of having a will

If you have ever wondered “do I need a will?” then here are some reasons that you should have one. Of course, the major benefit of having a will is making sure your assets are distributed the way you want them to be, and that your family is cared for in the manner you wish. But there are other benefits.

  • Secure your family’s future, especially your children. By nominating guardians for those who are under the age of 18, you are ensuring that your children are being cared for in the manner you wish. It also gives you the chance to make arrangements for their education and upbringing.
  • You choose who handles your estate. Having a will gives you control over who manages everything when you die, so you can choose someone you trust completely. 
  • You can change your will according to your circumstances. Of course, your will can be changed as you wish, but there are also some key moments in life that it should be revisited. This includes any births, deaths, marriages or divorces.
  • It makes the distribution process much easier. When you die, your loved ones don’t want to be dealing with solicitors and estates. While it is, of course, something they will have to deal with, having a will makes everything clear, meaning your estate can be handled a lot faster and a lot more efficiently. It makes it easier for your loved ones. 
  • You have complete say. If you die intestate (without leaving a will), your estate is divided according to your state law so you have absolutely no say in who gets what. 

Things to avoid

There are some common mistakes that many people make when creating a will. Here are some tips on things that you should avoid in order to ensure that your will has been created correctly:

  • Not storing it correctly. Your executor needs to see the original will, not photocopies, so make sure you store your will in a safe place and that your executor knows where it is. 
  • Choosing the wrong witness. A witness cannot benefit from your will in any way, so if you plan to leave something to someone, never ask them to witness. You could inadvertently disinherit them. 
  • Making changes to the will that are not official. Making changes is more than just crossing some things out and initialing them. You need to make an official alteration and it must be signed and witnessed.
  • Using incorrect wording. Be very careful with your wording. A good example of this is using ‘my children’ in your will. This may not cover any step or foster children so if you want them included, make sure your will expressly states this. 
  • Making assumptions. Don’t assume anything when it comes to your estate. Make sure things are crystal clear otherwise nothing is guaranteed. 

Do I need a will?

Still wondering “do I need a will?”The key is to remember throughout the process is that it’s exceptionally important to have a will and if you’re ever in doubt, always consult a legal expert. Remember, this is your most treasured possessions and your most important family members and friends, so make sure you get it right.

Luke Fitzpatrick
Luke Fitzpatrick has been published in Forbes, Yahoo! News and Influencive. He is also a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney, lecturing in Cross-Cultural Management and the Pre-MBA Program.

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