Where There’s a Will, You Can Forge the Way

  • Words by Ian Taylor, Gifford Devine Lawyers, Hastings

It’s so easy to put off writing a will. There can be the assumption that there will always be time down the track to get it sorted or that the process is an unnecessary expense.

Yet as lawyers, we commonly see that when someone dies intestate (without a will) it can be expensive and time consuming for their loved ones as they navigate an extended legal process. Taking the time to write a will now can also ensure that you have greater control over what possessions and assets will go to whom.

What goes to whom?

If you die intestate, your estate is administered and managed in accordance with the Administration Act 1969 (“the Act”). Among other things, the Act says that property within intestate estates will go a deceased person’s family and sets out a general order of priority among family members regarding who gets that property, which might not be what you would expect or what you would want for your assets.

Many people value relationships and community beyond the bounds of family. When drafting wills, we often see clients leaving possessions and assets to friends, family and organisations which would not be considered in estate administration under the Act.

In preparing a will before your death, you are able to consider wider friendships, relationships and organisations, including charities you support and ensure that your estate is administered in accordance with your personal wishes.

Writing a will also ensures you have control in other ways. Among other things, you can leave instructions for the guardianship of your children and instructions regarding whether you want to be buried or cremated. You can also appoint who you want to be in charge as the administrator of your estate – otherwise if you don’t write a will, it is up to someone to apply to be in charge as the administrator.

Keep your will up-to-date

It is important to update your will every few years or when you experience major life changes. Over time you may lose loved ones, welcome new family members or acquire or dispose of major assets. Keeping your will current ensures that people and possessions are taken care of in accordance with your wishes at the time of your death.

Giving to the Community

We see many clients leaving assets to their communities through their wills, whether through a financial donation or some other gift. While there may be many differing motives, our clients in these cases are generally expressing that they wish to create a long-lasting legacy or simply just want to ‘give back.’

In life it can sometimes be hard to justify charity – you might be of little means or find it hard to part with money when you don’t know what’s around the corner. Setting up a charitable donation to be actioned once you have gone can be a good way to give back without compromising your quality of life or sense of security.

Charitable donations through wills are also an important source of funding for our local community organisations, including charities such as Hawke’s Bay Foundation. Many are needing support now more than ever.

If you don’t yet have a will or you need to update your will, there is no better time than now. The process is not overly complicated, nor necessarily expensive. While engaging a lawyer can ensure a more thorough and accurate will, there are many online templates available for those who cannot afford legal advice. Having a current will will not only relieve loved ones of the stresses and burdens that may arise if you die intestate, but it can ensure that you have greater control and that your estate is administered in accordance with your current wishes.