When should you start writing a will?

Many people don't think to write their wills young. Source: Getty Images

Think you have nothing of value worth passing on? There are still many reasons to write a will - and early - as Insight finds out.

It's an excuse Imelda Dodds, CEO of the NSW Trustee and Guardian, hears often: 'I have nothing worth leaving to friends and loved ones, so there's no point in writing a will.' 

"We hear it often, our research tells us that the vast majority of people who say they don't wish to make a will, the reasons are they believe that they have nothing to leave largely because they think that they haven't got real estate," she tells Insight's Jenny Brockie.

"That's actually not true, they do have things to leave and there are important things that can be provided for in a will."

Young people, especially, represent the lowest percentage of people who have not put down their final wishes in writing, according to their research, she says. However, we should all start thinking about writing a will as early as 18 years old, Dodd believes. 

"Quite often young people may have some small nest egg, [and] they may have seen experiences of others where wills weren't made."

She also points out that we shouldn't undervalue the importance of personal items. 

"You forget that things like jewellery [are] a really important thing. There are small items, there are larger items that have got great emotional value that people overlook. They're important things that can be considered in a will and should be considered."

Lawyer John de Groot also points out many young people will also have assets from compulsory super their employers - even if just at the local supermarket - will be paying. That could also include a life insurance policy, and "for many people that can be their most significant asset ... it can fall into their estate." 

To die without a will is called dying intestate, which automatically triggers a legal process that determines how the estate is divided up. 

Dodds encourages people to "think about in your lifetime, how many relationships you might have had with a significant person that you would consider would equate to a de facto relationship or indeed a marriage, because if you die without a will, then all of those people may have a claim on your estate."

If you die without a will, then all of those people may have a claim on your estate.

It is likewise important to stipulate in a will care arrangements for any children, or even ageing parents. 

Formally putting your last wishes into writing at an early age doesn't make them unchangeable - in fact, marriage or divorce are the only changing circumstances under which a will is automatically revoked or reinstated - and you can formally revoke it at any time. 

Dodds recommends regularly updating a will to reflect change. 

"My strongest advice to you, and I think all lawyers and people who make wills and my colleagues, trustees around Australia, would be that you update your will regularly ... every three to five years." 


Insight looks back at our 2015 show, Where There's a Will, investigating whether our will really is our last word, and whether it's possible to make them watertight | Catch up online now:




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