10 min read

What is a Will? And Why You Should Have One

Everyone needs a Will, no matter the size of their estate. Without one, the distribution of your assets will be decided by the laws of intestacy in your state or territory, which might not reflect your personal wishes. This can lead to family disputes and legal headaches, plus hidden fees and costs for your loved ones after you’re gone. Understanding what a Will is, and why it’s important, helps you make smart decisions when it comes to planning your estate.

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What is a Will?

A Will is a legal document that specifies how you want your assets and estate to be distributed after your death. It allows you to detail who will inherit your possessions, who will take care of any minor children, and how your final wishes should be carried out.

A Will makes sure your intentions are honoured by providing a clear plan for your loved ones to follow.

The Key Components of a Will

  • Executor: The executor is the person you appoint to manage your estate after you pass away. Their duties include ensuring your assets are distributed according to your Will, paying any debts or taxes owed by the estate, and handling any other administrative tasks. Choose a trustworthy and capable executor, as they will play a significant role in carrying out your wishes.

  • Beneficiaries: Beneficiaries are the individuals or organisations you designate to receive your assets. This can include family members, friends, charities, or other entities. You can specify what each beneficiary will receive, whether it’s a specific item, a sum of money, or a percentage of your overall estate.

  • Guardians: If you have minor children, a Will allows you to appoint guardians to take care of them in the event of your death, so that your children are cared for by someone you trust. It’s important to discuss this responsibility with your chosen guardians beforehand to make sure they're willing and prepared to take on this role.

  • Specific bequests: These are detailed instructions for distributing particular items or sums of money to specific individuals or organisations. For example, you might leave a family heirloom to a relative or a donation to a favourite charity. Specific bequests allow you to make clear and precise allocations of your assets.

What Else can I Include in a Will?

  • Contingency plans: Designating alternate executors, beneficiaries, or guardians in case your first choices are unable or unwilling is something you might consider putting in your Will.

  • Funeral arrangements: Specify your wishes for your funeral, burial, or cremation, including any pre-paid arrangements or specific requests.

  • Pet guardianship: If you have pets, you can designate a guardian for their care and allocate funds for their ongoing needs.

  • Digital assets: Provide instructions for managing your digital assets, including social media accounts, online banking, and other digital properties.

  • Charitable donations: Detail any charitable donations or endowments you wish to make, specifying the organisations and the amounts or assets to be donated.

  • Debts and liabilities: Outline how outstanding debts and liabilities should be handled and paid from your estate.

  • Special considerations: You may include things like personal letters or messages to your loved ones to provide guidance or express your wishes in a more personal manner.

Why You Should Have a Will

Make Sure Your Wishes Are Honoured

A Will allows you to specify exactly how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. Without a will, the distribution of your estate will be determined by the laws of intestacy, which may not align with your personal desires. By clearly outlining your wishes in a Will, you make sure your property, money, and personal belongings go to the individuals or organisations you choose, instead of leaving it up to the government.

Provide for Your Loved Ones

A Will provides a way to secure the financial future and care of your dependents.

  • You can designate guardians for your minor children and make sure they're cared for by someone you trust.
  • You can allocate funds to support your children, spouse, or other dependents, offering them financial stability and peace of mind during a difficult time.

Avoid Legal Complications

Having a Will in place can help minimise or prevent disputes and legal challenges amongst your heirs or other loved ones. When there is no Will, or if your wishes are not clearly documented, conflicts can arise over the distribution of your estate. This can lead to lengthy and costly legal battles that can strain family relationships.

A Will provides clear instructions and reduces the potential for these kinds of misunderstandings and disputes.

Specify Funeral Arrangements

A Will allows you to outline your preferences for funeral arrangements, such as whether you prefer burial or cremation, any specific funeral services, or other final wishes. By including these details in your Will, you're able to provide guidance to your loved ones during an emotional time, and make sure your final arrangements are carried out according to your wishes - reducing the burden on your family.

Common Misconceptions About Wills

There are several common misconceptions about Wills that can lead people to believe they don’t need one.

'I Don’t Need a Will if I Don’t Have Many Assets'

Many people think that if they don’t own a lot of property or have substantial wealth, a Will isn’t necessary.

However, a Will isn’t just about distributing valuable assets. It’s also about making sure personal items, family heirlooms, and sentimental possessions are given to the right people, and addressing other important matters such as appointing guardians for minor children, and specifying your funeral wishes.

'I’m Too Young to Need a Will'

Another common myth is that only older individuals need to think about writing a Will. The reality is that unforeseen circumstances can happen at any age. Having a Will ensures that your wishes are known and can be followed, providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones, no matter your age.

'My Family Will Know What to Do Without a Will'

Assuming that family members will instinctively know and agree on how to handle your estate can lead to conflicts and misunderstandings.

A Will provides clear, legal instructions that help avoid disputes and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, rather than leaving it to family members to decide.

'A Will Covers All My Estate Planning Needs'

While a Will is the key component of estate planning, it may not cover everything. For example, some assets like joint bank accounts or retirement funds may pass directly to the co-owner or named beneficiary, regardless of what your Will states. Comprehensive estate planning might also include trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.

'It’s Too Complicated and Expensive to Create a Will'

Creating a Will doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. There are many resources available, including online platforms and legal services, that can help you draft a Will that meets your needs and budget. The peace of mind that comes from knowing your affairs are in order is well worth the investment.

How to Get Started with Writing a Will

Steps to Creating your Will

  1. Take inventory of your assets: Begin by making a comprehensive list of all your assets, including property, bank accounts, investments, personal belongings, and any other valuable items. This will help you understand what you have and how you want to distribute it.

  2. Decide on your beneficiaries: Determine who you want to inherit your assets. This could include family members, friends, or charitable organisations. Be specific about what each beneficiary will receive.

  3. Choose an executor: Select a trusted person to act as your executor. This individual will be responsible for carrying out the instructions in your Will, managing your estate, and ensuring your wishes are honoured.

  4. Appoint guardians for minor children: If you have minor children, designate guardians to take care of them in the event of your passing. This is an important decision that should be discussed with the potential guardians beforehand.

  5. Specify funeral arrangements: Outline any preferences you have for your funeral, burial, or cremation. This can help your loved ones during an emotionally challenging time.

  6. Draft your Will: Write down your wishes clearly and concisely. Be sure to include all necessary details and specific instructions for the distribution of your assets.

  7. Sign your Will: For your Will to be legally valid, you must sign it in the presence of at least two witnesses who are not beneficiaries. The witnesses must also sign the document.

  8. Store your Will safely: Keep your Will in a secure place where it can be easily accessed by your executor when needed. Inform your executor and trusted family members where the Will is stored.

Having a Will is the first step in honouring your wishes, making sure your loved ones are cared for, and your estate is managed smoothly after you’re gone.

Key insights to takeaway

  • A Will is a legally binding document that outlines how you want your assets distributed after your death. It includes key components such as an executor, beneficiaries, guardians, and specific bequests.

  • A Will ensures your wishes are followed, provides financial security for your dependents, avoids legal complications, and allows you to specify funeral arrangements.

  • Common misconceptions about Wills, such as not needing one if you have few assets or being too young, can lead to significant issues. Everyone should have a Will, regardless of their estate size.

  • The process of creating a Will involves taking inventory of your assets, deciding on beneficiaries, choosing an executor, appointing guardians for minor children, specifying funeral arrangements, drafting and signing the will, and storing it safely.

  • Think about your unique circumstances and how having a Will can benefit you and your loved ones. Reflect on your assets, family dynamics, and specific wishes to ensure your estate is managed according to your desires.

For further reading, or if you’re approaching your end-of-life plan for the first time, here are some resources you might find helpful:

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if I die without a Will?
Dying without a valid Will is known as 'dying intestate'. Your estate will be handled and distributed according to which intestacy laws apply in your state- this means that your wishes may or may not be adhered to, and could end up costing your loved ones both significant financial, emotional, and legal stress in the long term

Are online Wills valid, and how do I have it witnessed?
Yes. Online Wills share the same requirements for validity as a paper-based DIY Will, or a lawyer drafted Will. Once you finish the process, you’ll need to print and sign your Will in front of two independent witnesses, so that it’s correctly executed.

What do I need to write my Will?
To write your Will, you will need to be organised and make a few key decisions. Think about, or put together a list of all of your assets, including property, bank accounts, and investments; this makes it easier to decide on beneficiaries and specific bequests you wish to make to individuals or charity. In the case of minor children or other dependents, decide on a guardian or guardians and any wishes you have for their future. Safewill guides you through this process in a simple and straightforward way, so there’s nothing you forget and no prep work required!

How do I choose an Executor, and what is their role in a Will?
An Executor is the person responsible for carrying out the wishes in your Will, and as such should be someone you trust. They’ll be following your instructions and performing all the legal and financial actions required to administer your estate. Generally, people nominate a family member, close friend, or a professional.

How secure is Safewill?
Safewill utilises best in class, military grade encryption and privacy practises to ensure your data stays where it belongs- protected and just for you.

Last updated 05th July 2024
Laura Barling
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Safewill is an online service providing streamlined forms and information. Safewill is not a law firm or a substitute for a lawyer’s advice about complex estate planning issues.