Make a will

This page has information for people who need to write or update their will. 

What is a will

A will is a legal document that comes into effect when you die. It says what you would like to happen to your property, money, and belongings. This is known as your estate.

A will names the people you want to give your estate to, also known as beneficiaries. 

It also names the person you would want to be in charge of your estate. This person is known as your executor. You should also appoint a back-up executor.

To be valid, a will must be both:  

  • in writing, either handwritten or typed
  • dated and signed in front of two, preferably independent, witnesses who are not beneficiaries. 

Why you need a will

Making a will is the only way to make sure your money, property and personal belongings go to the people who you want to receive them.

A will can also:

  • name guardians of your children or other dependants
  • establish a trust to provide for your children and other dependants
  • donate money to charity
  • outline specific funeral instructions.

If you die without a will

If you die without a valid will, this is known as dying intestate.

Your estate will be divided up according to a formula under the law. It is not decided by the administrator of an estate.

This can mean:

  • the people you would like to have your belongings and money may not receive them 
  • your family and friends may not be provided for financially
  • it may take more time and money to distribute your money and belongings.

How to make a will

To make a will, you must be 18 years or older and of sound mind.

You can do one of the following:

  • ask a solicitor to prepare a will for you
  • buy a do-it-yourself kit, available from an Australia Post Office or some news agencies - you should carefully read and follow all instructions in the kit
  • make a will with the Public Trustee - this is only available to some people - see below. 

You may wish to seek legal advice before you draft your own will. 

If your will does not meet all the legal requirements, or is not clear, your executor may need to employ a lawyer to have the will interpreted by a court. 

This may result in extra costs and delays to your estate.

The Public Trustee

The Public Trustee can prepare and update wills for certain people, including all of the following:

  • existing clients who have already made a will with the Public Trustee
  • people wanting to name the Public Trustee as their executor
  • pension concession holders.

Find out about will and estate management fees with the Public Trustee.

To make an appointment you should: 

What happens to your debts

Your estate will be responsible for paying your debts. Your beneficiaries will only inherit what is left after all debts are paid out. 

If your estate cannot pay all of your debts in full, the money will be shared on a pro-rata basis between your debts.

Jointly owned assets

Jointly owned assets, such as a house or bank account, will transfer to the surviving owner. It will become a part of his or her estate when they die.

Updating your will

You can update your will as often as you wish. You should check it every few years to ensure it reflects your circumstances.

You may need to change your will if any of the following apply:

  • you buy property or other major assets
  • you sell property or other major assets you mention in your will
  • you get married, divorced or separated
  • your partner or spouse dies
  • you start a new relationship
  • beneficiaries named in your will die
  • you arrange your superannuation fund to pay your superannuation into your estate.

Storing your will

You can store your will for free at the Public Trustee office in a specially maintained vault.

Your bank or solicitor can also store your will for a fee.

Last updated: 28 November 2017