Why you need a will and how to prepare for one

If you have a young family you have one very good reason to get your will finalised as soon as possible.
If you have a young family you have one very good reason to get your will finalised as soon as possible. Photo: Getty Images

As parents we’d do anything in our power to protect and provide for our children. That’s why writing your will should stop lingering on your to-do list.

The two most common factors preventing us from preparing a will is our innate distaste for talking about death and secondly the misconception that the process is too time consuming, but for the majority of us with basic assets and liabilities your will can be prepared in one appointment with a second meeting to sign paperwork.

No one is ever truly prepared for the death of a loved one and passing away without a will can make a difficult time much worse. Rebecca* experienced that first hand with the unexpected death of her father at the age of 50. “Dad kept putting off making a will, he thought he had plenty of time. His death was a dreadful shock for us all,” she says. “Mum and Dad had divorced and he had remarried another woman, but when he died they had been separated, but not yet divorced, for more than five years. Because Dad didn’t have a will she was entitled to everything and we ended up having to go to court. The whole thing was a nightmare, we were already in a dreadful state grieving for our Dad then had to deal with lawyers and the court system.”

Estate expert Katherine Hawes of New Age Legal Solutions says that in its most basic form, a will is your voice from the grave which is especially important for parents of young children as it dictates how you would like to see their lives managed in your absence.

There are two options for preparing a will, through a lawyer or doing it yourself with a will kit readily available at most post offices. Hawes says its advised to consult a professional as a number of factors can come into play that could make a will invalid. “Do it yourself wills are often written in layman’s terminology and sometimes can be so vague they’re not enforceable and it may have to go to court,” she explains. Wills that aren’t signed or not signed properly, wills that aren’t witnessed and phrases such as ‘I leave everything to …’ are the most common mistakes that are made.

In the tragic event that your children are left orphaned, you will need to appoint a legal guardian, the person, or people who will be responsible for the long term care and developmental decisions for your child. It’s a big undertaking and most often this responsibility will be left to a family member or close friend.

While you don’t have to ask the persons permission before appointing them guardian, it’s in the best interests of your children that you do as well as sharing this information with the rest of your family. Your will reflects your intentions and guardianship can be challenged in family court if other families members don’t agree with your decision. This area is a great example of why your will should be reviewed on an annual basis. “Just because you appointed guardians when a child was born doesn’t mean those people will be capable in the years to come,” she explains.

The division of your estate is what is most commonly thought of when it comes to your will, and it’s a common belief particularly of younger parents, that they don’t have any assets to distribute. “Your superannuation, life insurance are all part of your estate and if you haven’t directed where your assets will go lengthy and expensive court proceedings may ensue and people may be appointed to look after your money that you may not want to,” says Hawes.

If your children are young when you pass away, it’s common for their inheritance to be left in trust until they reach a nominated age, usually 18 or 21. You could also elect for them to receive an allowance per year or distributed in increments over a period of years. It’s also a good idea to put a set amount aside for the guardian of your children to help with the cost of their care.

Your will is also the place to express your wishes on a number of other topics that pertain to your children. You can ask that your children be raised a particular religion, request they attend a particular school, spend Christmas with Grandma in Queensland or anything else you feel is important. “You can make your will as detailed as you wish. Gifting items of importance to special people and donations to charities are also common,” Hawes adds.

Death is the one thing we all unfortunately have in common. While it might be unavoidable, the impact it can have on your family can be.