What is a will?
Everyone needs a will. If you do not have one Government, and not you, decides who gets your hard earned assets.Most of your life is spent working to build up assets to provide security for yourself and your family. Your will lets you (and not Government) decide who will receive your property and belongings after you die. Making a will is the only way in which you can make sure that your lifetime's work is passed on to the people you choose.
Your will can also detail:
Formalities vary from country to country. In New Zealand to be valid your will must be:
Why should I make a will?
Everyone needs a will. If you do not have one Government, and not you, decides who gets your hard earned assets.
If you die without a will then you die "intestate and what happens then is like Russian roulette. The laws of the country decide who gets your property. The law provides a formula which sets out who is entitled to the property of a deceased person who does not leave a will. The formula is unlikely to distribute your assets in the way you would have wanted.
Most of your life is spent working to build up assets to provide security for yourself and your family. Your will lets you (and not Government) decide who will receive your property and belongings after you die. Making a will is the only way in which you can make sure that your lifetime's work is passed on to the people you choose.
How old do I have to be to make a will?
In New Zealand you need to be 18.
Can I make a will myself?
You can make a will yourself if you wish by :
Using a lawyer or trustee company. The problem with such wills is that they are only as good as the information which you provide them. Many important matters are frequently not covered, or if they are the cost is very high. The trustee companies which charge you nothing to prepare your will do not do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They make the cost back many times over by high charges to administer your estate after your death.
Using printed will forms which are available from stationers, or printed do it yourself will kits. These printed wills are normally very basic, and end up looking like a dogs breakfast due to you having to cross out the parts not relevant to you. They are not nearly as comprehensive as an expert will creation package.
You should never prepare your will yourself without using a will creation package or will form. There have been very many cases where homemade wills were either unclear, not properly prepared, not properly signed or witnessed or caused an unwanted tax liability.
How can I make sure my wishes are carried out?
Your will appoints the executors and trustees who hold, manage and distribute your assets after your death, in accordance with the directions given in your will. When making a will, choosing the right executor is an important decision.
You can name one or more person(s) to act as executor(s) and trustee(s). Anyone can to be your executor. In New Zealand the executor must be 20 or older.
Before appointing anyone as an executor you should first ask them if they are prepared to take on that responsibility after your death. The duties expected of an executor can be difficult, demanding and time consuming.
In most cases, an executor will require legal or other professional representation or advice which of course involves costs and liabilities to the estate. Your chosen executor should be aware of the legal responsibilities and have some understanding of accounting, business practices and taxation matters.
Your partner will normally be appointed by you as the sole executor and trustee if they survive you and you are leaving all of your assets to your partner.
If your partner dies before you your adult children (i.e. those aged 20 or over) will normally be appointed by you as the only executors if you consider that they are then old enough and wise enough to carry out these responsibilities.
You can also appoint one or more adults whom you trust (either in addition to or instead of your partner and/or children) to be the executors and trustees of your will. Examples of when this is desirable are:
If your partner or children need help to carry out the terms of the will, or
If you believe there should be an outside person to make sure that the terms of your will are followed.
An outside trustee can also assist in sorting out any disagreements that may arise between the trustees. Choices of outside trustees include:
Being an executor and trustee is a very responsible position. The executor has to obtain probate of the will from the High Court. Probate is the certificate granted by a court to confirm that the will of a deceased person has been proved and registered in the court and that a right to administer their effects has been granted to the executor proving the will. The executor then pays any taxes, debts or expenses before finally distributing the balance to the beneficiaries named in your will. You can provide in your will that the executor is to be paid for his or her work as executor.
Can I leave my assets to anyone?
Yes your assets can be left to anyone. However if you do not make proper provision for your husband or wife, or in New Zealand your partner, or your children (particularly if they are dependent), they could challenge your will. This is an area of law upon which you need to take detailed legal advice if you do not wish to leave assets to your partner or one or more of your children.
Can I change my will if my circumstances change?
You can change your will at any time. If your circumstances change in any way, you should alter your will. However, you cannot make the alteration by, for instance, crossing something out on the original will and writing in your new wishes.
If the alterations are minor, you can make a codicil (a separate document in which you change a provision in your will). A codicil must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, in the same way as your will was. We strongly recommend (as do most will experts) that it is better to make a new will. One benefit of a new will is that your beneficiaries will not see (and possibly become upset about) the changes which you have made. The second benefit is that by having your wishes recorded in one document the possibility that the codicil may be overlooked or lost is avoided.
What happens to my will if I marry or divorce?
The law differs between countries.
In New Zealand any will made before you get married will be automatically revoked (cancelled) when you marry, unless it is expressly stated in the will that it was made in contemplation of marriage.
Before you marry you should therefore make a new will containing a clause saying that it is made in contemplation of your marriage.
In New Zealand any gift or appointment (such as an executor or guardian) in favour of a former spouse in your will is automatically revoked (cancelled) when your marriage is dissolved.
You should always make a new will if you are divorced or are separated.
The dangers of jointly owned property
In the case of couples everything jointly owned passes by survivorship to the survivor regardless of what your will says. For most couples this means that only the will of the last of you is effective.
To make sure that the important wishes in your will are carried out you also need to change the ownership of all jointly owned property into ownership as tenants in common in equal shares. This legal term means simply that it no longer passes by survivorship to the last of you, but passes under the terms of your will.
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