Wills are legal documents that name the people you want to receive property, possessions and assets that you own at the date of your death – these people are known as your beneficiaries. Wills are the only way you can ensure your assets are distributed in the way you intended after you pass away. Therefore, Wills are essential if you are concerned about who will receive your assets and it is particularly important if you have a family, or other dependants.
What are valid Wills?
Wills are only valid and accepted by the court if they are in writing and signed and dated (preferably every page) by the testator (the person making the Will) in the presence of two independent witnesses (aged 18 years or over). The witnesses must also be named on the Will and co-sign and date the Will in the presence of each other and the testator. To avoid a conflict of interest, a witness should not be a beneficiary to the Will. Only then is a Will put into full effect by a grant of probate. If a Will is not drafted and duly executed properly it may be set aside and your property distributed according to the rules of intestacy (the condition of your estate if you do not have a valid Will), which may conflict with your wishes.
Another important consideration for anyone wanting a Will is that it should be drafted and signed by someone of sound mind, memory and understanding – without any undue influence from other people.
Once a Wills is complete it should not be added to, deleted from, pinned, stapled or even have a paper clip attached. It is highly recommended that an experienced Wills and Estate Planning lawyer be consulted if an intended change is to be made to a Will because even the simplest change must be correctly done or it may have adverse results – potentially invalidating the Will.
Should I update my existing Will?
A Will should reflect your current wishes and circumstances. As a guide you should review your Will every few years. Changes to your circumstances can include events such as marriage, separation or divorce; you may have become a parent or grandparent; bought or sold assets; your financial situation may have changed significantly; you may have retired; or either a beneficiary or your appointed Executor may have died.
What is Probate & how does it work?
Probate is the legal process to validate the Wills of deceased persons to fulfil their wishes that are to be carried out by the Executor named in the Will. If awarded, a Grant of Probate is the court’s official recognition of the validity of a Will and who the Executor of Will is.
Probate may be required when a person has passed away and leaves behind certain kinds of assets. For example, if there is a large sum of money in a bank account and the deceased was the sole account holder, a Grant of Probate may be requested by the financial institution in order for the Executor to access the account.
What are the duties of the Executor?
An Executor is someone nominated in a person’s Will whose responsibility it is to administer the deceased’s estate. Many testators elect a friend or close relative to be the Executor of their Will. This nomination is typically regarded as a mark of respect and reflects a high degree of trust which the testator has in their abilities. However, the Executor’s duties are onerous and can be very time-consuming and often requires professional advice and assistance. If you have been appointed an Executor, you should seek-out the efficient services of a lawyer experienced in the administration of deceased estates.
What is a Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney is an important document that allows you to appoint one or more people to make decisions concerning your legal and financial matters while you are alive. A Power of Attorney ceases upon your death, at which time your Will comes into effect.
There are two types of Power of Attorney to consider:
- A General Power of Attorney; and
- An Enduring Power of Attorney.
A General Power of Attorney is an authority given to someone to deal with your financial and legal affairs on your behalf from the time you execute the document. For example, it allows you to appoint someone to sell your house while you may be overseas, invest your money or operate your bank accounts.
An Enduring Power of Attorney operates when you become legally incapacitated. For example, if you have lost mental capacity due to a stroke, dementia or brain injury. Both can be combined into a General and Enduring Power of Attorney should you wish to appoint someone now to act on your behalf and continue to act should you lose mental capacity.
While a Power of Attorney deals with your financial and legal issues, it does not cover personal aspects of your life such as health care, accommodation or lifestyle issues. These are covered by an Advance Care Directive.
What is an Advance Care Directive?
Advance Care Directives have replaced Enduring Powers of Guardianship, Medical Powers of Attorney and Anticipatory Directions. While your Enduring Power of Guardianship may still be valid, an Advance Care Directive allows you to set out in detail your wishes regarding future healthcare and lifestyle decisions, such as preferred living arrangements. It also enables you to set out legally binding refusals of healthcare.
An Advance Care Directive enables you to appoint someone (often your loved one) as your Substitute Decision Maker to make these decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make them yourself. Therefore, being able to make legally binding decisions now regarding your healthcare enables you to provide instructions for your loved ones to follow in what often is a traumatic and emotional time for them.
You may for example, include in your Advance Care Directive, to not be kept alive on life support or to be resuscitated in certain circumstances. Should this occur, these directions are then followed through by your Substitute Decision Maker, giving both yourself and them peace of mind. It may also reduce the possibility of conflict between family members as you have appointed a particular person to carry out your wishes.
Scammell & Co is one of South Australia’s leading providers of Wills & Estates services. We have established an enviable reputation for quality and thoroughness. No matter how simple or complex your estate planning needs are, our lawyers have the expertise to provide customised Wills and Estate Planning documents. Call our team today on (08) 8447 4466 or contact us via the enquiry form to discuss how we can assist you.