How to write a will in Australia
Learn how to write your will in a way that’s legally-binding and ensures your assets will go exactly where you want them to.
Having a will in place offers peace of mind on how your things will be distributed when you die. It can confim who'll care for any children under 18. It also locks-in how your funeral should be done. Without a will, your payout gets distributed by the state government based on their legal process.
5 steps to writing a will
1. Check you're eligible
In most cases, you must be at least 18 years of age to make a will. You must be fully aware of the implications of what you're writing. In legal jargon, this is called having "testamentary capacity".
2. Write the contents of your will
A will can be typed or handwritten. If you want to write a will without a lawyer, you could start by finding a will kit template online.
The key details of a will include:
- Personal information such as your full name, address and identification details
- A statement that you are revoking any previous wills (if this applies)
- The name of the person you're appointing as the executor of your will. They will be responsible for carrying out your instructions
- Details of your chosen beneficiaries and what you want to give them. Start by making a list of your assets. This can include things like your money, home, car(s), jewellery, family heirlooms, etc. Also, include details of any future guardianship of any children under the age of 18
- Any other requests. This could include funeral instructions. For example, if you want a burial or cremation. You could state what should happen if a beneficiary dies before you do.
3. Sign your document
You have to sign your will in the presence of two witnesses. These can't be people who you'd like to benefit from your will. Ensure there's a date and signature on each page.
4. Get your will reviewed
For peace of mind your will is valid, get a solicitor or a lawyer to check yours. Alternatively, you could get help from your local public trustee's office. As your circumstances change in the future, you may need to review and update your document.
5. Share key details
Tell your executor where they can find your will and other important documents or contact information. For example, if you're a homeowner, be clear on where you keep your property's certificate of title. You might want to give the executor a copy of your will.
What are the main ways of writing a will?
There are 3 ways to write a will in Australia:
- Hire a solicitor or lawyer. This can be your family lawyer, a specialist estate planner or through an online legal service. Your lawyer should know exactly how to guide you through the process, including how to write it correctly.
- Buy a DIY will kit. These kits, widely available online, will get the ball rolling if you're unsure how to start writing your will. These are simple templates with sections you can write in. You can also find these types of documents at some newsagents and bookstores.
- Create a will from scratch. In theory, you can make a will by writing down your wishes on a piece of paper and signing it properly. You could also seek help from a Public Trustee to complete your will (more on this later on).
A will can be simple or complex depending on things such as the size and complexity of your assets. But even an 'easy' will could be done in a way that isn't legally sound.
Therefore, it's understandable that many choose to get professional legal support with theirs.
Create your will via a lawyer or online legal service
How much does it cost to write a will in Australia?
To have a will written by a lawyer, it can cost anywhere from $400 to $3,000 depending on the complexity.
If you're going through a local Public Trustee office, you might expect to pay around $330-$440* for a will writing service.
However, it's hard to be exact as no two wills are the same. If you're hiring a legal professional, costs will vary depending on where you live and how long your will takes to create.
Ask about all fees charged by a solicitor or lawyer before you commit. Fees can include writing and reviewing the will, plus admin costs after you pass away.
Don't forget, it's possible to get a free will kit and write a will without using a lawyer. An online will service can be free or have a small cost, such as $30.
What happens if I don't have a will?
Basically, you won't be able to determine what happens to your assets after you die.
If you don't have a will, you're not alone. Finder research has found that less than 1 in 3 (31%) women have a will. Meanwhile, just 50% of men do.
If you die without a will, you're classed as having died "intestate". If no family can be found, your assets and possessions typically goes to the government.
If your family can be located, the general order of inheritance for your assets is:
- 1. Spouses (or de facto partners)
- 2. Children
- 3. Grandchildren or great-grandchildren
- 4. Parents
- 5. Siblings
- 6. Nephews and nieces
- 7. Grandparents
- 8. Uncles and aunts
- 9. First cousins
- 10. Someone else the court may appoint
Writing a will in your state or territory
One reason it's a good idea to seek professional advice when creating your will is that state and territory laws can differ.
Aside from getting a solicitor to prepare a will for, or writing your own with a DIY will kit online, government support that may be available to you where you live.
This is usually via a Public Trustee service – all states and territories have one. These are usually government agencies. Writing a will is one such service they offer. As well as managing trusts, they can also provide help with legal, accounting, tax matters.
How to write a will in New South Wales
The biggest will maker in NSW is the government-run NSW Trustee & Guardian. They can prepare your will after you complete an online form. Or, you can attend an in-person appointment. You must then visit a branch (or book a video conference appointment) to finalise the will.
Will preparation services are free for those eligible for a full Centrelink age pension.
The legal requirements of executing a will are found in section 6 of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW).
How to write a will in Victoria
In Victoria, wills are enshrined by the Wills Act 1997 and the Administration and Probate Act 1958.
A State Trustee can help with the preparation of your will. It's best to get in touch with them directly for more information.
How to write a will in the ACT
The Public Trustee and Guardian for the ACT can help you with creating a will.
But according to its website, it "can prepare your Will only where nominated as the Executor to administer your estate".
The rules of making a will in the ACT are contained in the Wills Act 1968.
How to write a will in Queensland
To make a will with the public trustee, you can do so for free if you're a Queensland resident. You can start the process by visiting a regional Public Trustee office, or by calling them. Additional appointments may be needed if you have complex needs.
Some Queensland Community Legal Centres also offer advice about wills and estate planning.
How to write a will in the Northern Territory
If you're a pension concession holder, the Public Trustee for the NT can prepare your will. The same goes if you want to name the public trustee as your executor.
To make an appointment, get in touch with your public trustee. You'll need to bring a completed form to an appointment. The public trustee's office can store your will for free.
The rules around making a will in the Northern Territory are found in the Wills Act (NT).
How to write a will in Western Australia
In most cases, you can get a will drafted by the Public Trustee of Western Australia (for a fee) on your behalf. To be eligible, you must nominate the public trustee as your sole executor; or, nominate your spouse or de facto partner as your first executor anf the public trustee as your substitute executor.
You'll need to attend an appointment with the public trustee (if you're sick, they may be able to conduct your appointment over the phone).
How to write a will in Tasmania
To prepare a will with the Public Trustee's office, you'll need to either choose the public trustee as your only executor. Alternatively, you must appoint someone else but include the public trustee as a substitute executor.
Another option you have is to speak with lawyer at Tasmania Legal Aid.
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