Explained: Creating your own will

If you’re thinking about writing your will, the good news is, you’re making a good call.

Every single adult should have a will in place, because it protects their assets, their values and their families against the unexpected.

When you have that document written up and taken care of, it reduces so much risk and stress, and it’s just one less thing to worry about.

Unfortunately, more than 50 per cent of Australians haven’t taken that step. It’s often in the too-hard basket, because it seems complicated and confronting.

It’s actually a lot easier than you might think.

Here’s a simple checklist for writing your own will.

1. Beneficiaries
The first step is to think about beneficiaries and decide who they’re going to be. A beneficiary is the person who will inherit your assets, and it’s an important decision to make. You might want to have a discussion with your chosen beneficiaries, just to let them know your thoughts and plans and keep them appraised.

For many people, the beneficiaries will be their spouse, children and close relatives. But you can also go a step further and name charities or causes that you believe in as beneficiaries. That’s a move that enables you to continue supporting the ideas that matter to you after you’re gone.

Checklist item: write a list of your beneficiaries

2. Assets
You do need to determine what your assets are and what you’re going to be leaving behind. This can include your property if you have any, your shares and investments, your cash savings, items such as cars or collectibles and so on. Anything that has value to you, either financially or emotionally, should be listed in your will.

Taking inventory at this step and going through what you have is important, so that each item is accounted for and planned around. It may help to start with your most valuable asset and go from there.

Checklist item: write a list of your assets

3. Debts
There are some debts that could become the responsibility of your estate to settle after your death. That’s a complicated matter and getting everything in a position, so it doesn’t become a problem, could require some additional advice, if your debts are substantial. For now, though, the first step is cataloguing and itemising what these debts are and determining how much is owed and where.

These debts could range from car loans to student loans to mortgages and credit cards. Getting a clear idea of where your estate’s financial health is at could help spare your executor a lot of trouble in the long run. It’s also a good idea to have a strong handle on the current state of affairs as you sit down to start writing your will.

Checklist item: catalogue your existing debts

4. Executor
The next step is to decide on an executor. This is one of the most crucial decisions you will make in drawing up your will. The executor’s job is to make sure that your will is carried out and your wishes are followed, and a lot depends on their ability to get that done. You should choose someone you trust, who is capable of carrying out that quite serious responsibility, and have a discussion with them about your choice.

Checklist item: choose an executor

5. Guardians
Finally, if you still have minor children at the time of writing your will, you’ll want to make some serious plans around their care and wellbeing. For starters, you will want to nominate a guardian for your children, who will look after them when you’re gone. This is a delicate matter. When you have a shortlist of guardians, you should start to meet with them and talk about their willingness to take on the role and responsibilities associated with it.

Checklist item: make a shortlist of potential guardians

Have you created your own will? Would you consider using an online will?

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Written by Aaron Zelman


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