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More than half of all Australians don’t have a legally-valid Will, let alone an up-to-date Will. Many of us put it off updating our Wills thinking we will get to it another day.

But it's important to remember that a Will is never a static document. It should be regularly updated to reflect recent significant events or changes to circumstances. This will help you to stay in control of your estate and ensure peace of mind for your loved ones.

We’ve listed below five major life stages that should prompt you to update your Will.

Married, separated, divorced or bereaved?

Relationships are an important part of life. They are also a large source of dispute when it comes to administering an estate.

The breakdown of a relationship, whether with a partner or child, should prompt a review of a Will.  There are many issues to think about including how to protect your Will from a challenge should you decide to remove a close family member from any benefit.

Starting a new relationship is an exciting time in life, and one that should never be rushed into without covering the finer details.

If you already have a Will before you get married, your marriage can make parts of it (or the whole document) invalid.

So, if you are about to get married or have recently married, you should pull out your original Will and amend as needed.

De facto relationships can also create obligations for you to consider in your Will. The longer you and your partner are together, the more likely it is that you will be expected to look after your partner in your Will. If you’ve been married before and have no desire to do so again, you should make sure that any long-term de facto relationships are clearly defined in your Will.

If you’ve experienced the death of a partner, your beneficiaries will need to be reviewed, and you may find yourself with more assets to deal with, particularly if you have received your partner’s superannuation. You may need to re-consider how your estate is to be distributed in these circumstances.

Starting a family?

This is another major milestone in your life. It can be an overwhelming time for any new parent – between planning for a birth, painting the nursery and choosing names, there’s nothing more important than the sense of protecting your growing family.

This is why it’s so important to form a plan and make sure your children are included in your Will. Remember, a Will should never be a one-time document – your Will should be reviewed with each new child that comes into your family. That way, if something happens to you and your partner, they are provided for.  

If you have young children, a Will is imperative because it appoints their guardian. This is particularly relevant to same-sex couples, as the right to guardianship varies across Australia.

When choosing a guardian, think about trusted friends and relatives who share your values. Consider their lifestyle, their proximity (you might not want to uproot your kids) and their financial stability.

Appointing a guardian will make your intentions clear and help avoid disputes; however, it’s not binding. The Family Court has an overriding discretion to appoint a different guardian where it considers it to be in your child’s best interests. Your intentions expressed in your Will are a relevant consideration when resolving a guardianship dispute.

When you buy a new home or your assets change

The contract is signed, financed approved, keys are ready. Congratulations, you’ve bought a new home!

Whether you’re a first home buyer or seasoned real estate player, property is usually the biggest asset that most people have, and forms the largest part of your estate. We strongly encourage making the time to update your Will as part of your new home “move-in checklist” – this way, it won’t get forgotten as you are hurriedly changing electricity providers and hooking up your NBN.  

When thinking about your Will the most important thing to understand is whether or not an asset forms part of your estate. Your Will can only control assets that are in your name when you pass away. 

For example, if you own a property with your spouse as joint-proprietors, the property will automatically transfer to your spouse when you die – it does not form part of your estate. Your spouse, however, would then need to deal with that asset in their Will.

If you make a specific gift of property in your Will (for example, a house) but you sell the asset before your death then that gift will fail, even if you wanted the beneficiary of that gift to share in your estate. Basically, you can’t leave what you don’t have. The disposal of an asset in these circumstances would justify a change to the Will.

If you start a business, come into large sums of money, buy a boat or decide to sell everything – you will need to make sure these changes are reflected in your Will.

When you retire

You’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to sit back and enjoy your retirement years.

Retiring is an important time in life to reflect and ensure that you have all your financial matters updated and medical and end of life plans in place. In addition to preparing a Power of Attorney or Advance Health Directive, you should spend some time making sure your Will is up to date.

If you die without a Will, a legal formula determines where your money goes. Basically, the law will identify those people who are closest to you by family relationship. Typically, this formula starts with your spouse and children, if you have them.  However, for some people this isn’t necessarily where they want their assets to go. Maybe they are separated, estranged or their closest family members are no longer living.

You may wish to leave sentimental gifts to family, such as your jewellery, the grandfather clock or your spoon collection. You shouldn’t rely on promises made to loved ones – make sure you’ve reflected these gifts specifically in your Will.

If you become ill

Generally, it is not a good idea to wait until you are unwell before you make a Will.  Making a Will in these circumstances can certainly be more stressful. That being said, a health scare is one of the major motivators for the preparation of Wills. A change in your health is also a good time to review your Will if you already have one.

Our experienced Will dispute lawyers are here to help. 

Our team of Will dispute lawyers are here to guide you through every step of challenging a Will. We have a long history of helping people contest a Will and settling Will disputes in Australia. 

It doesn't cost you anything to know where you stand 

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We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Australian Capital Territory. If you need a lawyer in Canberra or elsewhere in Australian Capital Territory, please call us on 1800 675 346.

We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.