It’s probably not surprising that wills aren’t a common topic of conversation to come up over a Sunday arvo Aperol spritz in your twenties. In fact, research from Finder.com.au in 2018 revealed that only one in five millennials (or Gen Y) have prepared a will, and even less of Gen Zs. While the two generations might be unable to agree on middle parts and skinny jeans, there is something they do have in common – the need to get savvy about wills. I’ve teamed up with State Trustees to spill the tea on wills, and why it’s one of the ultimate adulting tasks to tick off your to-do list.
What is a will?
Put simply, a will is a legal document that contains information about what you want to happen to your assets after you die. It may also include your wishes for who will care for pets or children when you’re gone. Everything you own like property, cars, cash, savings and even your favourite handbag are all considered your ‘estate’, which is the term used in will writing.
Note: superannuation and life insurance payouts are generally not included in your estate. These have their own beneficiaries associated with them, so you must ensure you nominate your chosen beneficiary (the person you want to receive them) with your fund and providers directly.
What happens if I don’t have a will?
If you don’t have a will, you’re considered to have died ‘intestate’. Not interstate, intestate. This means that the law of the state or territory you live in decides what happens to your assets. If you die intestate, your assets will usually be left to your family according to a hierarchy. For example, if you leave behind a partner, your partner will be entitled to all your assets. If you leave behind no partner and no children, your assets will go to your parents. If your parents have passed away, your assets will go to your siblings, etc. While this might sound simple enough, it can mean that the time it takes to settle your estate is extended, and any assets or cash you do have could be left to different people than you’d have liked.
Do I need a will and when should I get one?
A lot of young people neglect to prepare a will because it feels a bit morbid, and nobody wants to be thinking about death in our teens, twenties or thirties. But preparing your will early doesn’t need to be an emotional experience. Think of it as a procedure to make things easier for your family if something did happen.
It’s particularly important for you to prepare a will if you don’t have a spouse or children. That’s because if you die without a will and there is no immediate spouse or children to inherit your estate, dividing up your assets can be more complicated. A will is the only way to ensure your possessions are passed on to the people you want to have them.
Even if you do have a partner or spouse, it’s still important to prepare a will for two reasons:
- Firstly, it makes things easier and quicker for them should you die; and,
- Secondly, in the eventuality that you and your spouse die at the same time, you may need to decide what happens to any assets you jointly own.
Can I update my will later?
Yes, you can change your will, either by using a codicil (a legal document used to change a will), revoking your will and preparing a new one, or destroying your existing will. It’s actually beneficial to review your will every 2-3 years, or as your circumstances change. Reasons you may need to change or update your will can include:
- You or someone named in your will changes their name
- Someone named in your will dies
- Your wishes change
- Your financial situation or asset structure changes
- You start or end a relationship, or get married* or divorced
- You have children, including adopted or step children
Generally, a marriage cancels your existing will. If you’re planning on getting married in the very near future, you may wish to wait until after the wedding.
What is the process of preparing a will?
With State Trustees, you can prepare your will either with a manual DIY kit (Australia wide), online using their systems (Australia wide), or in person/via Zoom for more complex wills (Victoria only).
A simple will is one that involves standard assets like cash, property and shares. Complex wills involve things like overseas assets, businesses, trusts, and other more complicated asset classes.
As my estate is a simple one, I recently completed my first will online, and it was so much easier than I ever expected! I sat down expecting it to be hours upon hours of legal jargon and complex questions, but it really is just setting out your wishes. Here’s an overview of the stages involved:
Note: this was my experience preparing a will as an unmarried individual with a de facto partner, in Victoria. Different states may have different requirements.
Firstly you nominate executors of your will. This is the person who handles your estate after you die – ie they ensure your wishes in your will are carried out. You can name multiple executors, and substitute executors if for any reason your nominated executor doesn’t survive you, or is unable or unwilling to fulfil their duties.
You then nominate legal guardians for your children. I didn’t do this part as I am childless!
As my partner and I jointly own our cat, he would automatically take care of him if I died. I then nominated another person to take our cat if we both died – and if you’re doing this it’s helpful to discuss it with them before you complete your will. With that I stipulated that a sum of money be given to the adoptive owner towards our cat’s ongoing care.
You then answer a couple of simple questions about your funeral wishes, i.e. religious or non-religious, simple or extravagant, etc. It feels a bit weird thinking about it, but I just kept it as procedural as possible.
You then nominate the recipient(s) of your overall estate. You can nominate one person or several people as beneficiaries, and either give them an equal share or a percentage split. You can also make decisions on what happens if those beneficiaries die with you or before you. You can also choose to leave some or all of your estate to charity.
The gifts section allows you to leave specific items or cash sums to specific individuals or charities.
The last section simply asks you to specify an age beneficiaries must reach before they can inherit from your estate.
The overall process took me less than 30 minutes for my simple will, and I feel like a 10/10 adult for having got it sorted!
Once you’ve prepared your will, and signed it in front of two appropriate witnesses, the document is yours. You will have no further involvement with State Trustees unless you want to revise it with them. If you have elected them as an executor of your will, they will manage your estate after you die.
Storing your will
Something really important that I learnt from doing my will was that if, after your death, your will can’t be located, it will be considered destroyed and your wishes may not be honoured. For that reason, the way you store your will is important. You can choose to store your will:
- At home
- Through the Victorian Will Bank (Victoria only)
- Through the Public Trustee in your state or territory
- A safe deposit box at your bank
- With your solicitor, if you have one
Keeping your will somewhere safe ensures that the relevant parties involved in the execution of your will know where to find it in the event of your death.
This content was prepared in partnership with State Trustees, but all experiences are my own.