We often get questions about budget-priced DIY-style will kits – the kind that can be ordered online or even bought in bookstores for $20 or less. While these can be a legitimate way to get your affairs in order, there are hidden pitfalls for unwary Kiwis. Worst case, you may not end up with a valid will! So, to help explore the topic, we picked the brains of Ala Sonti, Senior Solicitor and wills expert at Public Trust.
Thanks for your time, Ala. DIY will kits... are they a valid option?
Ala: They can be. To start with some basics, if a will is signed and witnessed correctly, and the will owner is of sound mind, it should be valid – and this includes DIY wills. So that’s fine. But the problem I see with many DIY wills is the clarity of the content written and provided by the will owner. These kinds of wills are designed for simple situations, which isn’t the case for most Kiwis.
So, where might things come unstuck with a DIY will?
Ala: I think the underlying issue is a lack of guidance and support. DIY templates are probably adequate for basic estates, and you can just fill in the blanks. However, if you have a more complex estate with one or more properties, a large family or assets in trusts (or in different countries), you really want your will worded in clear and correct legal terms. Simple things like correctly listing your assets are really easy to get wrong, but are so important to do right!
If your DIY will kit doesn’t tell you how to do this – or the instructions are hard to understand – to account for more complex wishes, you could end up writing large parts of your will on your own. And that can be risky from a legal standpoint.
If a will is not clear, what could happen?
Ala: Ok, if a will is ambiguous, it can be more easily contested – which means your wishes may not be adhered to. Administrating your estate will also become far more difficult and time-consuming. Or worse, if a will is very unclear or legally incorrect, it can be like not having a will at all! That can be a real burden on family, who will be left to sort it all out. Your estate will be distributed according to the law rather than the way you intended. Sadly, this may take years and end up being costly for loved ones – especially if lawyers and the courts are involved.
What would you recommend to be on the safe side?
Ala: Obviously, there are options like using a lawyer or wills specialist. But I get that many people are attracted to DIY will kits because of their affordability, and that’s fair enough. More recently, Public Trust has developed an online will service that offers the best of all worlds – ease, access to expertise and a reasonable price.
Our online wills start at $69 and come with three price tiers, depending on how complex your requirements are. No matter your situation, our wills come with the reassurance of having the Public Trust behind you – which is a good thing because we’ve been doing this for almost 150 years.
What about service and support?
Ala: Well, first, our online will service is designed to guide you through the process, with easy-to-understand instructions at every step. It’s quite a clever set-up. You click on your requirements and add the necessary details. Once you’re done, the information is converted into a will document with the correct legal wording – ready for witnessing.
For those times you do need a helping hand, you can get hold of our experienced Trustees free through Live Chat. They’re available weekdays 9am-7pm and weekends 10am-4pm, and you’ll usually get an answer to your query in under 5 minutes. You can also contact us by phone or by email, or check out our frequently asked questionsabout wills.
Is one-on-one support available?
Ala: Yes, absolutely. If you’d rather sit down with one of our trustees at your nearest Public Trust customer centre, we offer an In-Centre Will service. This allows you to create a will in-person with one of our experts, and costs $385. One other option: if you’ve created a will online or you already have one, you can purchase an expert review with our legal team and they’ll advise you on your legal standing.
Any final thoughts on DIY wills, Ala?
Ala: One thing I haven’t mentioned is that many DIY will kits don’t come with a ‘statement of wishes’ option, which is an opportunity to explain your decisions to loved ones and help them understand your feelings. I think this can be really meaningful.
Other than that, it’s just common sense. Sure, DIY will kits can work fine, if your situation is very straightforward. But I’ll leave you with this – your legacy and last wishes are worth infinitely more than $19.95... so make sure you do it properly.