Many people assume that they don’t need to think about making a will until they are ill or elderly. In reality, this is not the case at all.
There are numerous advantages to having a will, even if you only possess modest assets such as a KiwiSaver account, so we generally recommend making a will as soon as possible once you are over the age of 18. In saying this, there are certain stages in your life when it’s particularly crucial to ensure that you have a will in place.
Why do you need a will?
It’s extremely important to have a will, as it records who you would like to receive your assets when you pass away and what should happen to your body. If you have children under the age of 18, it also records who you would like to be their guardian.
If you die without a will, it means your loved ones will be subjected to a costly and stressful process, as they would need to apply to the court to have your estate administered before they could access your assets. In this instance, the Administration Act would specify how your estate is distributed, which may not be what you would have you wanted.
For example, if you pass away without a will leaving a spouse and no children surviving you, the first $155,000, your personal chattels and two-thirds of the balance of your estate would be passed to your spouse. The remaining one-third of your estate would be passed to your parents. This arrangement would be perfectly acceptable for many people, but sometimes the default distribution method isn’t suited to your relationships.
What is the best age to write a will?
There is no age too young to make a will, but we would certainly recommend having a will drawn up when you begin to accumulate substantial assets (for example, when buying your first home or starting your own business).
Regardless of your assets, it’s also important to have a will in place by the time you have kids so that guardians can be appointed.
It is best to make a will while you are still young. If you wait until you are older, there is a risk that your will might be challenged after your death on the grounds that you didn’t have the mental capacity to make important decisions. If this occurs, your wishes may not be carried out as stated in your will.
Is there a minimum age for making a will?
From the age of 18 years old, you are legally entitled to make a will if you are of sound mind.
There are several scenarios where you may be able to make a will if you are under the age of 18. If you are a minor and you believe you need a will, we would advise that you talk to a solicitor.
Can I update my will later if I change my mind?
Some people delay making a will as they believe it is irrevocable and unable to be changed, but this is not the case. If you make a will and decide to change it, your solicitor can easily revoke it and prepare a new will for you. The first will that you make won’t necessarily be your will forever.
In fact, it is a good idea to review your will once every few years to ensure that it remains relevant as your circumstances change. Your will will likely need to be updated if you have kids, get married, separate from your partner or have grandchildren.
For example, if you make a will before getting married, your will is automatically revoked upon marriage unless it expressly states that it was made in contemplation of marriage.
I already have a family trust. Do I need a will too?
People with a family trust often delay making a will, as they think it is unnecessary to have both. However, a trust can only protect specific assets that you have transferred into the trust, whereas a will covers everything you own.
In addition, a will can do certain things that a trust cannot, such as recording your wishes for your body, appointing guardians of your children and waiving debts owed to you.
How can I make a will?
Although you don’t necessarily need to have your will prepared by a solicitor, we would recommend engaging a solicitor to ensure that it is effective, accurate and clear. If the terms of your will are unclear because they have been poorly drafted, it can create complications and lead to a long process for your executor when trying to administer your estate.
A solicitor will typically take your instructions as to what you would like included in your will and prepare it for you. They will also ensure it is correctly signed and witnessed. This is just as important as the writing of your will, as it could otherwise be deemed invalid by the High Court.
If your lawyer has been involved in preparing your will, it is standard practice for them to hold the original and provide you with a copy for your records. It is a good idea to let your family know where the original is so that they know who to contact when the time arises.
When preparing your will, your solicitor will likely request a list of your assets (such as property, jewellery, cars and shares) and will also need to know the following details:
- Who you would like to be the executor of your will
- Who you would like to be the beneficiaries of your will
- If you have children under the age of 18, who you would like to be their guardian
Note: This post is brief and general in nature. You should not treat it as legal advice and should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this post. Armstrong Murray accepts no liability for losses suffered by any person or organisation who may rely directly or indirectly on this post.