Is your will valid?

Plenty of people try to save some money by making their own will, sometimes through the use of a will kit from a newsagent.

I suppose that I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, we lose the fee (usually under $1,000) that we would have made had we been instructed to prepare a perfectly good, enforceable will that can easily be used in administering the estate at a minimum of cost. But then on the other, we stand to gain the fees (usually over $10,000) associated with sorting out the mess of the home made will.

Common problems with home made wills (and I am not going to tell you all of them, otherwise why would you need me?) include not having the document signed and witnessed correctly (and this is a bit more complicated than people think), referring to specific assets that are later sold or substituted, not providing alternatives in the event of the death of a beneficiary, partial intestacies, attempting to leave superannuation benefits or trust or company interests in a fashion that cannot be achieved at law, or giving a gift then trying to impose a subsequent condition on it (eg “I give my house to my wife and when she dies to my son”).

Another major issue is people not appreciating their own financial affairs, a common issue being loans to or from companies or trusts which can be an asset or liability of the estate.

Other problems come with people making alterations to wills after they are signed and witnessed, or leaving paperclip, clamp, or staple marks on the will.

Each one of those issues translates to more fees for the lawyer acting in the estate (see, there is a silver lining after all) but then it can have a significant adverse impact on what the will maker really wanted.

The take home point is that the lawyers are going to get paid one way or another, it is just that by making the will yourself not only do you risk very unhappy outcomes but it could be that the lawyers will be paid a lot more – and we wouldn’t want that, would we?