Every New Zealand adult should have a Will. Despite this, estimates suggest that more than half of New Zealanders do not have a Will and every year thousands of New Zealanders die without one.
Why do you need a Will?
To ensure that your assets and belongings are dealt with and that family are looked after as you wish rather than as the law defines.
Your Will can:
- Specify who you would like to provide for;
- How you would like specific assets or belongings to be dealt with;
- Direct who is to look after any infant children;
- Make special or particular funeral directions
Significantly, if you do not have a Will (or your Will is held to be invalid) then what you would like to happen, may not happen and your family could be impacted, as a result.
What does a Will cover?
A Will provides instructions as to what will happen to your estate. Your estate is made up of all of the personal assets held at the date of your death. Jointly held assets (e.g. a joint bank account) or assets held in a Trust do not form part of your estate.
It is therefore important, when making a Will, to be clear as to what assets will form part of your estate and will therefore to dealt with on your death.
For example, at Stewart Group, some of our Risk Management clients own insurance policies on their own lives. This means that the proceeds of the life insurance policy, with the life insured being the owner of the policy, form part of their estate and will be governed by their Will or, if you do not have a Will, by the laws on intestacy.
What happens if you die without a Will (intestate)?
If you die without a Will, you die “intestate”, and the law (Administration Act) directs how your assets will be distributed. This is dependent on your personal circumstances, such as whether you are survived by a partner and/or children.
The legislation is intended to try and provide a fair outcome for most situations, however it may not be what you would want. For example, you may want to ensure your children receive a larger portion than what is provided for by the law or you may wish to give a particular piece of property, such as a family heirloom, to a specific person.
Dying without a Will also makes things more complicated and uncertain for your family and loved ones, which can be particularly tough in a time of grief.
Reviewing your Will
Having an out of date Will could cause as many problems as not having a Will. If you do have a Will, when was it last reviewed? Does it reflect your current circumstances?
You should review your Will on a regular basis (at least every 3 years) and whenever you experience a big life change like the birth of a child, death of a family member or a separation.
If you get married or enter a civil union, your Will is automatically revoked unless it specifically records that it was done in contemplation of marriage or civil union.
Keeping a Will
Your legal adviser will usually hold your original Will on your behalf, however it is important to keep a copy in a safe and accessible place and to let your nominated executor(s) and loved ones know where to find it.