So I have a funny story about wills. You’re probably thinking what could possibly be amusing about preparing for death, but trust me – you’ll want to hear this story.
Not so long ago, a friend of a friend was going to a funeral at her local crematorium to farewell a loved one. Not having been there before, she opened the big, heavy door with a loud creak and saw just four other people sitting solemnly inside the silent room – and woops, she had walked into the wrong service.
It happens, right?
Just as an FYI, this post is sponsored by the NSW Government. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100% authentic and written in their own words.
But having already signed the guest book and feeling bad for disturbing the peace, she decided to stay and pay her respects to the perfect stranger, before joining the wake for her dearly missed friend.
She shrugged off the embarrassing error and didn’t think of it again until she got a letter from a solicitor, asking if she was in fact the woman who had signed the guest book at the stranger’s funeral months earlier.
Upon calling to explain her mistake, she was informed that the deceased man had specified in his will that any person who attended his funeral should share in his estate – and so was awarded the mammoth sum of $70,000.
She said absolutely not – she couldn’t take money from a stranger for an un-intentioned half-hour mistake. But they insisted and said that was his wish. It was in his will, and whether she thought it right or wrong, it had to be honoured.
So she accepted the money, and in less than an hour, earned more than most Aussies make in a year. Amazing, right? And it actually happened. My friend’s friend swears it.
So the moral of the story? It pays to have a will. And sign the guest book.
We all know that a will is a legally binding document that sets out how you want your property, finances and belongings distributed when you die – but how do you know when you need one, or how to write one?
You might not think you have much worth leaving to anyone, but the fact is that if you’re over 18 with any kind of ‘stuff’ (think of your shoe collection, ladies), then it’s time to have a will.
Sure, it can be depressing to think about and easy to put off, but ensuring you have one could change someone else’s life when yours is gone – and better you make the decision of who gets your Gucci than some guy in a suit you’ve never met.
It’s also comforting to know that your wishes will be respected, and that your worldly possessions will live on through your loved ones. Drawing up a will is good for them too – it means no fighting after you’re gone, and people have a clear understanding of what you wanted all along.
It might be something small or sentimental that would mean a lot to someone you care for – like leaving your YSL handbag to your green-with-envy bestie, or giving your car to your public transport hating brother, or bequeathing your savings to the charity closest to your heart.
You could leave 100 per cent of what you have to your husband or partner. The choice is yours, and yours entirely.
Getting a will.
The good news is it’s easy to do. Contact your solicitor if you have one, or call NSW Trustee & Guardian who can help get it down in black and white. It’s cheap, easy to change should you choose to (like if you get married or divorced, have children or buy a house) and protects your family – and your memory – after you’re gone.
What happens to your kids.
If you have children, things get tricky and you have a whole new set of issues to consider, like who you would trust to raise them in your absence. As a parent, the last thing you want to think about is out-living your offspring, but death is a fact of life, and the fact is you have to plan for it.
Think about who they love – and who loves them. If it’s your parents or your in-laws, consider their age and caring capacity into the future. If it’s a sister or family friend, think about whether they have – or want – children of their own.
Are their kids the same age, or will they be over the exhausting hurdles of child rearing by the time yours come along?
Where would they live? Would they stay at the same school? Should you pick a couple, a family, or someone who is single? What happens financially? While most parents request their assets and wealth are held in a trust for their surviving children until they are 18, there are so many questions, and so many possibilities.
Pick someone close to your heart; pick someone that will love your babies like their own. Make a list. Write down pros and cons, but trust yourself to make the right decision, because you have to.
When you have, make sure you discuss it with them before putting it in writing. They might behonoured to have been chosen – but they also might be overwhelmed by the responsibility. Talk it out, and if they are not comfortable, it’s best to know now so you can sort the problem and do what’s best for all involved.
Choosing an executor.
Then you need an executor of your will. Pick someone who is trustworthy, reliable, fair and happy to deal with the legal side of things on your behalf. It’s often good if they are independent, or you can choose to elect one from each side of the family. You can also appoint an independent professional executor such as your solicitor or NSW Trustee and Guardian.
Appointing an attorney under a Power of Attorney.
One day you could also benefit from having a Power of Attorney, so it’s good to elect one on paper while you’re getting your affairs in order. Should you lose your mental capacity, they manage your financials and can sign legally binding documents on your behalf – but they can’t make decisions about your lifestyle, medical treatment or welfare, and it ceases when you die.
That’s where an Enduring Guardian comes in – the person you choose to make decisions in areas of lifestyle and health – things like accommodation – if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. Appointing one may feel unnecessary, but it can avoid conflict and distress for your family should the worst happen, and leaves you in control of who calls the shots when you can’t.
What happens if you don’t have a will.
The bad news? If you die without a will, your assets will be divided up by a pre-determined government formula, with certain family members receiving a defined percentage of your assets. If that happens and you have no surviving relatives, closer than first cousins, the state government will receive your estate.
Don’t leave your loved ones guessing what your wishes were, and who would be left with your most precious assets – your children. Leave them, and your loved ones in safe hands, with a will that has it all covered, just the way you’d want it.
Do it, and do it now.
And if you need help, visit planningaheadtools.com.au or phone 1300 887 529.
Have you put your will on your mental to-do list that never actually gets done? What steps have you taken to plan ahead?
Who will take care of everything if something happens to you? Who will inherit your property? Who will take care of your children? Who will look after your finances and medical needs?
Fortunately, planning ahead for yourself and the ones you love is easier than you think. The NSW government website, Planning Ahead Tools, contains information, tools and resources that will make sure your exact wishes are known, so you can get it in black & white.