What Belongs in a Will – And What Does Not?

What Belongs in a Will – And What Does Not?

Thinking about what might happen after you pass away can be difficult. For this reason, many people come up with excuses to avoid making important arrangements. When it comes to writing a Will, these excuses tend to take one of two forms: people either mistakenly think they’re too young to worry about it just now or decide that they aren’t wealthy enough for a Will to matter.

However, neither excuse makes much sense if you really think about it. It’s never too soon to write a Will. In fact, as soon as you begin accumulating personal property or find yourself in a serious relationship, it’s probably time to do so! As for the idea that Wills are only necessary for the super-rich, anything you own—from a house and car to bank accounts and personal items—will need to be divided after you pass away. It doesn’t matter how much it’s worth.

Why people decide they need a Will

When you write a Will, you’re expressing your desires for how you wish your property to be handled and distributed upon your death. Everything you own (minus any debts you owe) becomes your “estate”. You may have a preference for who will get what, and a Will is an easy way to establish this and help insure these wishes are followed.

Beyond making your wishes known, a Will can help speed up a process known as “probate”. This is when a Will is brought before the courts to confirm it is valid. Once this has been done, the instructions written within it can now be followed. Without a Will, this process can take much longer, as the courts will need to decide who’s in charge of your estate and who gets what. Having a Will can make the process much simpler and quicker, removing a bit of stress from your family’s shoulders.

Can I write a Will myself?

Any person of sound mind who is at least 18 years of age can legally make a Will in New Zealand. (In some circumstances, minors may make a Will. If you are under 18, it’s best to seek legal advice if you would like to write a Will.)

There are no laws that require you to use a solicitor when writing your Will. You may decide to take a “do it yourself” approach to save money. This may work well if your estate is straightforward and simple. In fact, there are free Will kits available to help people write simple Wills. However, if your circumstances are somewhat complex you’ll likely want to get legal advice.

What goes into a Will?

Regardless of whether you write a Will yourself or with the help of a solicitor, there are a few things that are typically part of a Will:

  • Choosing an executor: This is the person who’ll handle all matters regarding your estate and divide it once you are gone. He or she will be given legal authority to handle your affairs, settle debts, and distribute your property as directed by your Will, so it should be someone you trust. It’s a good idea to ask this person (or people, if you’re choosing more than one) before writing your Will to be sure they’re willing and able to take on the task.
  • Picking your heirs & how much they’ll get: You get to decide who inherits your estate or parts of it. These people will be named in your final Will, along with how much money, property or special gifts they are to receive.
  • Naming a guardian for your children: If you have children under the age of 18, you can name a guardian or guardians to care for them should you pass away before they reach adulthood. Your Will can also be used to create a trust, where they will only inherit their part of your estate when they reach a certain age.

What DOES NOT go into a Will?

Often, people want to put details about other arrangements they’ve made in their Will. However, this might not be the best place for them.

  • Funeral arrangements: It’s of immense help to your family if you spell out wishes for funeral arrangements, including if you’ve taken out funeral insurance to help pay for them. Dealing with these realities through planning or prepayment of expenses may be much appreciated by your family in the days after your death.

Funeral arrangements rarely appear in a Will for one practical reason: Most Wills are typically “read” several days after a funeral. By then, they’re not very useful. While you can mention desired funeral arrangements in your Will, you should also keep a separate copy of those instructions in a safe location known to several trusted family members, where it can be easily and immediately accessed.

  • Life or Funeral insurance policies: When you take out a life insurance policy, you’ll be asked to choose a beneficiary. This is the person or people that the insurer pays the benefit to when you pass away. Since this happens outside of the probate process, it does not need to be mentioned in your Will. The only time life or funeral insurance becomes part of an estate is if no beneficiary has been named.
  • Retirement or pension accounts: Like life insurance, these accounts may allow you to choose a beneficiary. They will be paid outside of the probate process and do not need to be listed as part of your estate in a Will.
  • Joint tenancy property: By law, any property owned by you and someone else as joint tenants becomes the joint tenant’s following your death. Your share of the property will pass automatically to them, regardless of any instructions to the contrary in your Will.
  • Using your estate for illegal gain: A Will is not a way to try to escape estate taxes. In fact, the probate court may deem a Will invalid if this happens. The same is true of leaving property or money to individuals for illegal purposes or under illegal conditions. If you’re unsure about the instructions in your Will, it may be best to seek legal help when writing it.

A Will is not a luxury used by only the wealthiest families. It’s an important legal tool that could help smooth the way for your loved ones after you’ve passed away. Whether you’re newly married or past retirement age, it may be time to write a Will if you haven’t already. Preparing this document may not be the most fun way to spend an afternoon, but it could bring immense relief your family when it’s finally needed.