Modern life makes an up-to-date will more important than ever

20 September, 2018

With modern business structures and modern families looking very different to how they once did, the importance of an up-to-date will is greater than ever. Wills Month is a perfect time to open or revisit the conversation.

Around 55% percent of adult New Zealanders don’t have an up-to-date will, and many just assume that, even without one, things will happen ‘as they should’ after they pass. The unfortunate reality is that the cost of not having a will can easily be many times that of having one prepared.

Elsewhere in the world, family members may have to prove financial need in order to contest a will, but that’s not the case under New Zealand law.

“Even though our system for challenging being left out of a will is based around moral obligations and need, it is possible to apply for provision purely on the basis of being a family member,” says Henry Stokes, Public Trust General Counsel Retail.

“Here, even estranged family can contest a will that they’ve been left out of.

“It’s really important to get the best advice when preparing a will to make sure it’s legally sound and to limit the risk of it being challenged.”

According to Mr Stokes, modern family dynamics can mean that a ‘cut and dried’ will can become out of date and complicated to execute.

In one case, a couple who separated after two decades, but never got a divorce, neglected to update the will they’d prepared many years earlier. By the time the wife died, the husband had a new partner and stepchildren, and things were already fraught. The wife’s death saw the husband entitled to everything. He proceeded to sell the family home and move on with his new life. The children from the original marriage and their families couldn’t afford to contest the will, didn’t know where to turn, and were left with nothing.

“Many people would hear a story like that and ask can that really happen?” says Mr Stokes.Our answer is yes. It happens and it’s heart breaking, particularly as it’s so easily avoided.”

Business arrangements can also affect how inheritance money or debt is distributed.

“We’ve seen cases where a father has left a business to his son, but the son is unaware of this and unable to take that business on. To make matters worse, the business is in trouble. The family have thought they had a viable business to sell, but it’s not viable, and it’s been left in the hands of someone who isn’t capable of running it,” says Mr Stokes.

“You can’t just walk away from these things. Scenarios like this involve lengthy legal processes and often can be enormously costly. Nobody wants to be dealing with that kind of stress at a time that’s already very difficult.”

Writing a will can be a surprisingly special and satisfying experience.

“It’s a process that allows us to think about our loved ones and reflect on what we are proud of,” says Mr Stokes.“It’s a chance to make a difference – not just financially, but by gifting heirlooms and mementos too.”

Public Trust prepare wills and enduring powers of attorney that are customisable and easy to renew, with will consultations starting at $289 including GST.

Contact: Ian Letham, Content & Communications Consultant

Phone: 022 070 0979