We make a will so as to provide for our loved ones; to be able to choose who will inherit our property. But writing down our intentions so that they are clear and unambiguous for others when we are no longer around, is not easy. For example take the words “issue” and “children”. The word “issue” is a legal term meaning all of a person’s descendants; not just their children.
Who can witness or attest the signing of a will for it to be valid in law? And what must they do?
The legal formalities to make a valid will require the will-maker to sign their will in the presence of at least two people, acting as formal witnesses to the event. Executing a will in front of witnesses fulfils a protective function. An unsigned will is not legally valid.
Witnessing a will – key points:
1. The will-maker must sign the will first in front of two or more witnesses, all present at the same time and in the same place.
2. Witnesses must be mentally competent and be able to see the will-maker make their signature, (the attestation) or other sign as appropriate.
3. At least two witnesses having attested the will then sign their names; in confirmation that the will-maker’s signature, made in their presence was genuine.
4. Anyone likely to inherit under the will, ie a beneficiary, including their spouse/partner should not witness it – although the law has changed in some states and in others exceptions are permitted. Seek legal advice.
Meaning of “nieces and nephews” – the general assumption
Our nieces and nephews are the children of our brothers and sisters, this hardly needs saying. If someone wishes to leave a gift to their “nieces and nephews” in their will, it should be a simple matter, when the time comes, to identify which individuals are a niece or a nephew and so entitled to share in the inheritance. However circumstances and relationship may change from the time a will is made to the date of death.
Administration of a deceased person’s estate – proving the validity of a will
By B Stead
Probate is the official process to establish or prove, whether a deceased person’s will or testamentary document is valid and intended to be their last will.
A grant of probate is the document issued by the Court of Probate after the examination process. A type of grant of representation, it is an order of the Court certifying that the executor (or personal representative) named in the document is lawfully authorised to administer the estate of the deceased person. More
Left out of a will or seeking more – who can apply for provision?
Family provision laws were introduced to remedy situations where willmakers failed to leave adequate provision for the proper maintenance, support and advancement in life for close family, usually spouses, partners and children.
The legislation gives the court1 discretionary power to order provision from a deceased person’s estate, where found to be inadequate, to “eligible” applicants, under certain circumstances. It is not automatic.
What does the ‘residue’ or ‘to give the residue of my estate’ mean?
The residue of a deceased person’s estate is what is left over after the payment of all expenses in connection with the estate.
Expenses include payment of the funeral, costs incurred in the administration of the estate, payment of the deceased’s debts, the discharge of any liabilities of the deceased, and the distribution of any specific gifts made under their will.
The residue or residuary estate is property of the deceased not disposed of by the terms of their will.
What is a codicil to a will?
A codicil is an additional document used to make minor changes, amendments or alterations to an existing will. The codicil document must be signed in front of witnesses in the same way as for a will, see below. Once completed the codicil is kept with that will. More than one codicil may be made.
The word ‘codicil’ comes from Latin, meaning a letter or note. Together with the will document, being testamentary documents they only operate when you die. A codicil is not used for making changes to other documents such as a trust deed for example. To do that, you need to follow the procedures set out in the trust deed, and seek legal advice.
Examples of a minor change are when you want to change your executor/s or trustee/s, appoint a new one, add a specific gift (legacy) to a particular person or delete it. Lawyers tend to prefer that a new will is made so as to avoid potential difficulties down the track with interpretation, and the extra costs that arise in resolving them.
Codicil to an existing will or make a new will?
As described above a codicil is a short document which may be used to make a minor change to an existing will. If the will was made a long time ago, it may be best to make a new will altogether so there is no inconsistencies. Seek professional advice.
This article looks at:
- What is a codicil?
- Making a legally valid codicil
- Codicils must refer to the date on the correct will
- Revoking part of a will by a codicil
- Reviving an earlier will by a codicil
- Meaning of ‘will’ includes a codicil
- How must codicils be signed?
- Storing a codicil
- Potential problems
- An undated, unsigned ‘homemade’ codicil
Interpreters, translators and will-making
Interpreters provide valuable services. Non-English speaking people or people who don’t have English as a first language may need the services of an interpreter or translator to help them understand in their language aspects of the will-making process. More
Storing a will for safekeeping
Wills are important private and confidential documents which take legal effect on the death of its maker. An original will should be stored in a safe and secure place after being signed and witnessed. Ideally the place should be fireproof, and protected from tampering or destruction.
Willmakers should consider their personal circumstances, family and other relationships when considering storage options. In some situations storing a will at home is not advisable if it is likely persons adverse to what it contains can access it.
And make sure you inform your nominated executors or legal personal representatives of your original documents.
Dying without a will (intestate) – who inherits?
Intestacy is when you die without leaving a will. You are said to have died “intestate”. In the absence of instructions left in a valid will, who will inherit your property? Succession law contains strict rules to deal with this problem.
This is an outline of the application of the intestacy rules. They specify the order of entitlement as to who inherits and in what proportion, as well as the provision of a sum of money (statutory legacy) for the spouse or partner. More
Pets are family – make a plan for their care
Pets and companion animals are important parts of our lives and family. Legally a pet is regarded as property, not a ‘person’ (although we might think of them that way!), belonging to their owner. Being property means that a pet cannot hold title to property and so cannot take a direct gift of money as a beneficiary under a will.
As owners, it is important to consider options for their care should you become unable to continue and for when you die.
Expressing your wishes as to what you would like done and documenting a plan for their welfare is helpful to family, friends and your executors. Make sure you let them know.
By B Stead
An enduring authority
Legislation in each state and territory provides for a person to make ‘enduring’ arrangements, set out in a formal legal document, (callled an enduring power of attorney), where they name someone else to make certain decisions on their behalf, in the event they become incapacitated and unable to continue managing their affairs.
An enduring power of attorney is a powerful document
In considering the making of an enduring power of attorney in the personal and family context, a Judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court said the following:
Who can make a will to dispose of their property?
Those who can make a will, change or cancel (revoke) a will under state and territory legislation must:
- be an adult, (18 years and over); and
- have the required mental capacity in regard to their testamentary intentions, meaning:
- know (generally) what they own;
- who they want to give it to, any dependents to be provided for;
- be able to weigh up the consequences of their choices, potential claims;
- understand that what they are doing is disposing of their property on death and its effects;
- understand that on signing their will document, what it states will become enforceable when they die.
Disposing property – what can be disposed of by a will and what can’t – property ownership and control issues
Disposing property by will, in the will-making process requires considerations to be given to what you own in your individual name, as opposed to what you might control, see further below. As only property owned in a personal or individual name can form a deceased estate, it is only this which can be transferred by will, (or the rules of intestacy).
Other property may be owned in the name of a company or trust. In these entities an individual may have control through shareholdings or a power of appointment. When it comes to making a will, it is important to remember that such assets won’t form part of a person’s deceased estate and therefore cannot be disposed by their will. See the table below for examples of what are estate (disposable by will) and non-estate assets. Making a list of property, money and things to be disposed of and who owns what is important. More