While most of us recognise that we need to make a Will (eventually), we don't really have any plans of dying anytime soon...so we think it can wait. It is important to understand why every adult needs a Will though, and what the consequences are of dying without having a Will in place (known as dying 'intestate').
What is intestacy?
Most Australians have never heard of 'intestacy', but 52% of Aussies are currently at risk of dying intestate. Intestacy simply refers to the situation where someone dies without a Will. This leaves their estate 'intestate' and requires additional court proceedings before an executor can be appointed to distribute the estate and make other important decisions.
An essential component of the Will is appointing an executor to administer your estate and final wishes. With a valid Will in place, they can normally start this process without any major headaches. Where there is no Will however, the Courts need to appoint an executor on the estate's behalf - this is a costly and lengthy process, and can lead to greater conflict as it unfolds in Court. It adds a huge burden of stress and cost on what is already a difficult situation, and is so easy to avoid by executing a valid Will.
The government formula that determines your family's future
One of the main consequences of dying without a Will is that the intestacy laws of your state or territory will determine how your estate is distributed, rather than you making this choice. Intestacy laws provide a list of priority for people who are eligible to inherit your estate - this means that the government will be determining who receives the benefits of your life's work, rather than you.
This can be immensely problematic, as someone with a 'legal claim' to your estate may not have been the person that you would have chosen to inherit. This is one of the leading reasons for intestacy causing legal conflict, as family members argue over who actually has the proper claim to an estate.
Difficult guardianship decisions
Although in most cases the appointment of a guardian will only become relevant once the other parent has died, writing a Will to appoint guardians for your children is extremely significant. Without expressing your wishes in the form of a Will, this decision could be left entirely in the hands of the court.
During court proceedings for guardianship, anyone can make an application to the court to obtain guardianship. This can be a traumatic scenario for the children and other family members.
While the Court will decide who should be appointed as the guardian based on what they believe is in the best interests of the child, this can all be avoided by nominating guardians in a Will to begin with.
Missed opportunities & lost assets
More than just a legal document, a Will is an opportunity to say goodbye and leave a lasting legacy for those you love. Dying without a Will takes away that final chance to create this legacy. Whether it's through your unique funeral request, a sentimental gift, or a dedicated note, a Will is key in assisting loved ones through a difficult process and ensuring that the emotional aspects of passing away are taken care of as well.
It's also a missed opportunity to highlight important assets that could be missed by the person appointed to handle an estate, or to leave a gift to charity that could leave a lasting legacy.
Your Will is the simplest, but most effective way, to secure your family's financial future and ensure they are protected if something unexpected were to occur.