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What are the Formal Requirements For Making A Will?

The key requirements for a valid will are:

  • the will must be in writing;
  • the will must be signed by the testator at the end of the will;
  • the testator's signature must be witnessed by two witnesses. (A beneficiary or their spouse should not witness a will. If they do they may lose their entitlements under that will);
  • the witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the testator and each other.

As the formal requirements for making a valid will must be strictly adhered to, it is recommend that you have your will drawn up professionally by a solicitor rather than in kit form.

What Should Be In A Will?

The will should specify that it is your last will and that you revoke any previous wills. It should appoint one or more persons to be your executor/s. Wills often include other requests such as funeral arrangements, preferences for disposal of the testator's body and the appointment of a guardian to look after the testator's children. As wills are only meant to deal with property, wishes such as these are not strictly binding on the executor, but can demonstrate the testator's intention. If a court is asked to determine the residency and guardianship of any children, the testator's wishes will be taken into account.

Your will should provide for payment of funeral expenses and any debts. It should then state how you want your property distributed, either by naming the item and to whom it is given, or by giving a person a certain amount or percentage of the total value of your property. If your will contains specific gifts, it should also state what is to happen with the residue (remaining assets) of the estate.

Executors

An executor is a person named in your will to look after your estate. An executor must be over 18 years of age. It is easier, although not compulsory, if the executor lives in the same state as the testator. It is also preferable to name two executors in a will. This will be of assistance if one executor dies or no longer wishes to act as executor. When considering people to be your executors, it is preferable to choose someone close to you, trustworthy and of a similar age. These are simple safeguards against possible complications later. If no executor is named in your will, the Supreme Court will appoint an administrator.

Changing Or Updating A Will

Once a will has been signed, there can be no alteration, either by crossing out or writing in new clauses. Alterations such as these will have no effect. The best way to amend or alter a will is by doing so in a separate document called a "codicil". For a codicil to be valid it must also meet the formal requirements of making a will. As a result we do not draft “codicils” but prepare new wills.

How Marriage Or Divorce Affects Your Will

Your will is automatically revoked, or made invalid, when you get married and on the day you are formally divorced by a court. However, wills made in contemplation of marriage or divorce are valid. If you do not wish to make a will in this way, a new will must be made after you marry or divorce, otherwise you will die intestate.

Contesting A Will

A person may challenge your will on a variety of grounds including that you were not of sound mind, or were unduly influenced or pressured by another person when making your will. Wills can also be challenged if they do not meet the formal requirements for making a valid will.
Another reason for challenging your will is on the ground that you failed to make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of a dependant. If one of your dependants expected to be a beneficiary under your will and has been left out, they may be able to make a claim. This is called a testator's family maintenance claim ("TFM claim"). The following people are able to bring a TFM claim: your surviving spouse or de facto; your children (including ex-nuptial, adopted and stepchildren); your parents (if you die without a spouse or children); and a divorced spouse who is receiving or entitled to receive maintenance from you at the date of your death and various other parties.

If you have been left out of a family member's will and believe you should have received a share of their estate, you should seek legal advice.


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