Invaluable ‘handy-to-know’ lessons and insights from business and domestic life,

presented by Eddie Lees

founder of Now Sorted

Don’t squander all your hard work for the sake of avoiding good advice.

If diligence is what you want to be remembered for, engaging a professional may be the best way to achieve it.

There is a time-honoured adage that goes along the lines of ‘Whoever represents her/himself in a court of law has a fool for a client.’ And many’s the time it has proved to be true.

Often a lay person will believe that all lawyers are expensive, so it surely must be far cheaper to do one’s own legal work. Well, first, by no means are all lawyers are expensive¬† (you usually get what you pay for); and, second, when a non-lawyer gets things wrong, the outcome may not only be expensive, it may be disastrous as well.

This was brought home to us when reading a recent article by Anna Hacker, who is national manager of estate planning at a trustee company.

The title of Anna’s article was How to avoid the top nine mistakes of DIY Wills. We recognised the value of her insights and rang to ask permission to quote from her text, to which she kindly consented. We use some of her wise and cautionary notes below.

  • A lost or mislaid Will incurs the need for a search that will likely be extensive and almost certainly quite expensive. In addition, there will be frustrating and the potential for costly delays. See how Now Sorted resolves this issue.
  • Having only one person witness a Will, when in fact there is a legal requirement for two people to witness the signing. The consequences of a Will with only one witness, again, are likely to be serious expenses and even more serious delays.
  • Taxation consequences frequently arise in a poorly drafted Will; when different types of assets are transferred, different tax rates may well apply and leave some beneficiaries worse off than was ever intended. A testator may well believe that leaving $100,000 to A in the form of this asset is the same as leaving $100,000 to B for that asset. Yet the end results could vary significantly.

“These points are too important to skimp on for people who are serious about wanting their genuine intentions carried out.”

Most people are aware that DIY Will kits are available quite cheaply from newsagents and post-offices – the seduction of a low price often masks deeper concerns:

  • If the Will is not dated, complications will probably arise, especially if there are other versions of a Will attributed to the Will-maker (testator). The court has to decide which, if any, is the ‘correct’ will and the research necessary can be very expensive.
  • The wrong assets being listed for distribution. Some assets are not able to be bequeathed by the deceased; superannuation accounts and certain business assets fall into this category.
  • Using incorrect legal definitions in the Will itself: Anna gives the example of the all-embracing term, ‘I leave all my shares, etc’. This will be misleading if it applies to shares beyond those on the stock market, such as shares in a company acting as a trustee for a family trust. Unintended consequences may well result.
  • Appointing the right executor for an estate is essential. There is always a great temptation to appoint a close relative or friend of the testator – instead of a professional person – as a sign of respect or affection. Ask anyone who has acted as an executor without the right qualifications and you’re likely to hear a tale of considerable woe.
  • ‘Where there’s a Will, there’s relations’ is an old saying and it highlights the kind of challenges that may arise if a relative feels as though s/he has been unfairly left out of a bequest. Never ignore potential beneficiaries is the lesson.
  • Well-crafted Wills always pay special attention to the needs of guardianship of children. Without considerable thought, entirely the wrong outcome may result from a poor – though unintended – decision.

This brief list of Anna Hacker’s key points are worthy of very careful consideration – they are too important to skimp on for people who are serious about wanting their genuine intentions carried out.