senior couple

If you’re putting off writing a will, consider this your sign to do it

Published: 11 August 2022
  • vic
  • 11 August 2022
  • The Sydney Morning Herald

“Hola Espana!” I exclaimed to my husband as I clicked “book”, confirming our flights to Barcelona.

Then as I nervously watched the plane circling around and around the screen as the transaction processed, I added, “Maybe we should write our wills ... Just in case.”

The morbid, yet arguably responsible concern that our two children could be left orphaned without any instructions about their guardianship, or inheritance if we were to perish on our travels was enough for us to stop putting off what we had viewed as an unnecessary inconvenience up until that point.

And after two straightforward consultations with a solicitor, a fee equating to several (quality) sangrias, we had a legal document that stipulated everything from the division of assets, guardianship of our children and cats, to who I wanted my favourite jewellery pieces to go to.

While our pandemic-fated trip never eventuated, I am still comforted by the fact that at least my husband and I are now amongst the approximately 30 per cent of Australian adults that had actually prepared a will.

These staggering results established by Finder in 2020 were supported by an unreleased 2022 Quantum Market Research survey of Victorians for the State Trustees, which showed that only approximately 42 per cent had wills, leaving 58 per cent without one.

State Trustees’ senior advisor David Andrew says some of the common reasons people don’t organise a will include the belief they are “too young,” that nothing will happen to them, they don’t have enough assets, the possibility their circumstances might change, the cost and inconvenience of writing one, and “simply not getting around to it.”

For 38-year-old Emily Grant, a homeowner who is eligible for a free will through her union membership, it is a combination of these factors that have deterred her.

“I’m just holding off in case I need to make amendments. That will cost money. I guess I figure my life will work itself out before I die,” she says. Until then, she has a contingency plan.

I have discussed my wishes with my mum, and I guess I trust my family will work it out at this stage.

While Grant is content with this, many experts in the wills and estates industry believe the importance of a will should not be underestimated regardless of your age, health, or your assets.

“A will provides you with certainty. By writing a will, you have control over your assets,” Andrew says.

This control is extremely important to ensure your assets go to the people you want them to.

“If you don’t have a will the law will decide who will get your assets, which may not be who you want,” agrees ASIC’s Moneysmart spokesperson.

In the situation where a person dies without a will in Victoria, your estate is divided up based upon a formula that “may not suit or appeal to everyone,” explains Andrew.

This can include the government, who, if you have no other beneficiaries may receive the entirety of your assets.

The uncertainty of who gets what, when a person dies without a will, can also lead to other potential issues such as family disputes around entitlement.

“For example, what if there are two rings and three daughters?” Andrew says.

A will should include a residuary clause to cover what remains of your will after debts and other costs are paid so that all assets are dealt with, and a gift over clause in case the people you select die before you.

Wills can allocate money for funerals, gifts, charities, clubs, pets and trusts, and can include the age at which beneficiaries get to take their share. They can also cover sentimental items and guardianship of your children. But perhaps most importantly, when creating your will, is the careful selection of your executor, the person who administers the estate of the deceased in accordance with their will.

Andrew says that when selecting an executor, you should consider four factors – whether they are appropriate and have the skill to manage the estate, their availability, willingness and their age. He strongly recommends choosing a back-up executor too, just in case.

While most wills are straightforward and can be done using a will kit, or even online, Andrew says using a solicitor, or specialised service can be worthwhile especially if there are complexities or questions around property ownership – sole versus joint ownership - and understanding whether superannuation is a part of the estate.

You should where possible get advice. It gives people comfort that they’ve covered everything,

he says.

As a parent, knowing that my children, both human and feline will be taken care of if anything were to happen, well that’s definitely a comfort for me. It also made saying adios to our dream vacation, just that little bit easier.