Why make a will?
People mainly use wills to write down family members they want to provide for if they die, and how they want to distribute what they own.
But wills also let us specify someone we would like to look after our kids, or to leave special gifts and meaningful things to people or organisations we choose. They can include special instructions for a funeral, and they typically name the person who will carry out our wishes.
If we don’t have one, or if ours isn't valid for some reason, what we would like to happen may not happen in reality. This could put our families into legal and financial difficulties.
How to make a will
Don't have a will yet, or need to update a previous will? You can get one drafted by someone with experience, such as a lawyer or trustee company. A will must also be signed and witnessed. If the proper procedures are not followed, a will may not be valid.
Wills don’t have to be pricey. Some lawyers will even write one for free, so there’s no harm asking around.
Online platforms such as Public Trust and LawHawk also offer low-cost options for wills and enduring powers of attorney. You can also find planning help at Te Hokinga a Wairua.
What does a will cover?
Instructions in your will can include:
- Your partner, children, grandchildren, other family members or friends you want to provide for
- Any family trust that you wish to leave property, money or other assets to
- Specific bequests such as cash payments, jewellery, artwork or furniture you want to leave to particular family members or friends
- Any charities or organisations you may want to leave money to
- Details of how you would like your funeral to be carried out
It's a good idea to set up enduring powers of attorney at the same time as making a will.
A will needs both an executor and a trustee. An executor obtains probate of your will from the court (when required) and the trustee carries out your wishes as set out in your will when we die.
- You can appoint a family member as the executor and the trustee – even if they are going to benefit from the will – but make sure they're happy to take on the role.
- You can appoint more than one executor and trustee, letting them share the work and the responsibility.
Appointing a professional executor and trustee is often a good idea, particularly if the estate is large or complicated.
Some lawyers and professional trustee companies write wills for free, providing they are named as executor. They will charge your estate a fee for acting as the executor and trustee.
Keeping a will
Whenever you go through a big life change like the birth of a child or separation, you should review your will.
For example, if you get married or enter a civil union your will is automatically revoked unless it states otherwise or specifically says that it was made with regard to the coming union.
Other life events like the birth of children or grandchildren, or the purchase of a property, are all good reasons to check your will.
Make sure to keep a copy of the will in a safe and accessible place – and let the executor and loved ones know where it is.
If your will can't be found, your last wishes can't be followed!
If you already have a will, is it up to date? Does it reflect your current situation? Your financial or personal circumstances may have changed since you signed it.
Top 5 tips for wills
1. When you get married, the will you wrote before marriage is no longer valid.
2. If you die without a will, all your assets do not automatically go to your partner.
3. If you die without a will, the government will use a formula to divide up your assets.
4. The last will you signed – even if it’s out of date – will be the one used if you die.
5. Wills are not just about what you leave to people – they can also identify the person you want to look after our children.