Wills are something every New Zealander should have. Wills allow you to say what you want to happen to your property after you die—even though you won’t be there to say it yourself.
What are wills?
Wills give you the power to make sure your property and assets are dealt with and distributed how you’d like, after your death. They’re the best way for you to be certain your family, friends and loved ones are looked after when you’re no longer there to do so yourself.
Our team helps people in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand make their wills. Everyone’s circumstances and assets are different, so we give you personalised advice and support to help make certain your wishes are carried out. And we guide you to consider all aspects of your affairs: so nothing—or nobody—is left out.
Start making your will with us today
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What happens if you die without a will?
Dying without a will is known as “dying intestate”. In these situations, there’s a law (Administration Act) which says where your property should go.
It describes a number of family situations you might have at your death (e.g. partner or spouse but no children or parents; partner or spouse and children but no parents; partner or spouse and parents but no children; children but no parent or spouse), and sets out the corresponding distribution of property. It also says what happens if you die without any family.
It may be that these default positions are what you’d want to happen. After all, the legislation is intended to try and provide a fair outcome for most situations.
But it may not be what you’d 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 for them to inherit particular pieces of property, such as a family heirloom.
Dying without a will also makes things more complicated and uncertain for your family and loved ones, which is particularly tough in a time of grief.
So while your property isn’t doomed if you die without a will, it’s much more certain and straightforward to make one.
When should I make a will?
Right now—if you don’t already have one, you’re over 18, and you have any property at all. We can get the ball rolling on that right here.
But there are times when it’s particularly important to make sure you have a will, and that it’s up to date.
- Marrying or entering a civil union. Any previous will is revoked when this happens, unless it’s clear that will was made when you were planning for that marriage or civil union.
- Purchasing property, or whenever your assets change significantly.
- When your family circumstances change: for example, the birth of a child or grandchild; the end of a relationship; the death of a parent, spouse, or other family member.
How do I make a will?
You don’t need a lawyer to make a will. Anyone over 18 and “of sound mind” can make one themselves (and some people under 18, under certain circumstances).
However, we highly recommend you do consult a lawyer—and we’re not just saying that because it’s our business.
A lawyer can help you think through all the things you might need to include in your will, and can help you make sure your will is valid. Home-made wills are more easily challenged, and if you’re serious about having your wishes carried out, you don’t want to take that risk. And if your estate is large or complicated, then no matter how savvy you are, it’s unlikely you’ll make a will that works.
But whether you work with a lawyer or choose to go it alone, the basic requirements of a will are the same.
- A will must be in writing.
- It must be signed by the will-maker.
- The signature must be witnessed by two or more witnesses, at the same time. They can either witness the signing itself, or if the will-maker signed earlier, they must witness the will-maker say he or she signed the document earlier, and that the signature is his or her own.
- The witnesses must sign the document in the will-maker’s presence.
The witnesses can also provide extra evidence by stating on the document that everything happened as above.
A will-maker may also direct someone else to sign it on his or her behalf, in his or her presence. The witnessing requirements are the same—the witnesses either need to see it themselves, or be told by the will-maker that he or she directed the other person to sign it, and that it’s that person’s signature.
Even if you don’t meet these requirements, it’s possible that the High Court can declare it a valid will. However, you’re much better off meeting them if you can.
What should I include in a will?
There’s no one set form. And as everyone’s circumstances and assets differ, so too do everyone’s wills.
But you’ll probably want to state:
- who gets your property – money, real estate, and items (including specific items to specific people)
- details of any family trusts, and what assets should go there
- charitable donations you might like to make
- instructions you have for your funeral.
You can also appoint people to help carry out the wishes you’ve included in the will: executors. They should be someone you trust to get things done, in the way you want them to be done. It could be a friend or family member (including someone named as a beneficiary in your will), or an independent professional such as a lawyer or accountant.
Choose wisely – they’ll be the ones acting for you when you’re not here to act!