The complete guide to writing a Will in QLD

Writing a Will might be that task that always seems to fall down your to-do list, but it’s a crucial one. Think of it as your way of ensuring that your hard-earned assets end up where you want them to, and your loved ones are taken care of, even when you’re not around. 

What happens if you don’t get around to writing that Will? If you pass away without a Will (legally termed as intestacy), the State’s predefined rules kick in to determine how your estate is distributed. This could mean your assets may not go to the people you intended. Beyond that, who takes care of your kids? Without clear instructions, it’s left to the courts to decide. A Will is an important legal document to ensure your legacy unfolds as you desire.

  1. Understanding Wills in Queensland
  2. Getting started
  3. Drafting the Will
  4. Witnessing and signing
  5. Storing the Will
  6. Probate process
  7. Common mistakes to avoid
  8. FAQ’s

Understanding Wills in Queensland

Different Types of Wills

When it comes to crafting your Will in Queensland, it’s not a one-size-fits-all affair. Understanding the nuances between simple and complex Wills is key. A Simple Will is a straightforward document suitable for those with uncomplicated estates, providing a clear distribution plan for assets. On the other hand, a Complex Will is more intricate, often involving multiple beneficiaries, trusts, or specific conditions. Deciding which suits your circumstances best depends on the intricacy of your assets and the level of detail you wish to incorporate. Speak to our team of experts to learn more.

Who Can Make a Will?

In Queensland, any person over the age of 18 who possesses testamentary capacity can create a Will. Testamentary capacity involves understanding the nature and effect of the Will, understanding the consequences of making a Will, and being free from undue influence. Whether you’re a Queensland local or a recent transplant, the law accommodates anyone wishing to express their final wishes through a legally sound Will.

When Should You Update Your Will?

It’s crucial to review and update your Will whenever significant life events occur. This includes but isn’t limited to marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of children, or the acquisition of substantial assets. Changes in personal relationships, financial status, or even alterations in your views on asset distribution may prompt a revisit to your Will. Regularly reassessing and updating your Will ensures that it stays relevant, reflecting your current intentions and safeguarding your legacy as circumstances evolve.

Getting Started

Choosing an Executor

Embarking on the journey of writing your Will necessitates the selection of a trustworthy executor. This individual will play a pivotal role in executing your wishes, managing the distribution of assets, and navigating the legal processes involved. Opt for someone reliable, organised, and willing to assume the responsibilities associated with being an executor. Open communication is key; discuss your decision with the chosen person beforehand to ensure their willingness and understanding of the role.

Identifying Assets and Liabilities

Before putting pen to paper, take stock of your financial landscape. List all your assets, such as properties, investments, bank accounts, and personal belongings. Simultaneously, acknowledge any outstanding debts or liabilities. This comprehensive overview will serve as the foundation for your Will, guiding the equitable distribution of your estate. Be meticulous in your record-keeping; clarity at this stage ensures a smoother process for your executor and beneficiaries later on.

Common assets might include things like:

  • Real Estate: Include all properties you own, such as your primary residence, vacation homes, or investment properties.
  • Bank Accounts: List all savings, checking, and other bank accounts in your name.
  • Investments: Include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and any other investment vehicles.
  • Retirement Accounts: Note your superannuation or other retirement savings.
  • Personal Belongings: Consider valuable items like jewellery, art, collectibles, and family heirlooms.
  • Vehicles: Include cars, motorcycles, boats, or any other registered vehicles.
  • Business Ownership: If you own a business, specify your ownership interest.
  • Digital Assets: Include online accounts, social media profiles, and any digital properties.
  • Life Insurance: Note the policies you hold and their respective beneficiaries.
  • Household Goods: While not high in monetary value, consider items like furniture, appliances, and electronics.

Common liabilities might include things like: 

  • Mortgages: Include outstanding balances on your home or investment property loans.
  • Personal Loans: Any loans you’ve taken for personal reasons.
  • Credit Card Debt: Note any outstanding balances on credit cards.
  • Auto Loans: Include any loans for your vehicles.
  • Student Loans: If applicable, include any outstanding student loan balances.
  • Business Debts: If you own a business, consider any outstanding business loans or debts.
  • Taxes: Include any unpaid income taxes or property taxes.
  • Medical Bills: Outstanding medical expenses or bills.
  • Funeral Expenses: Consider potential costs associated with your funeral and final arrangements.
  • Other Debts: Any other outstanding debts or financial obligations.

Deciding on Beneficiaries

Determining who will inherit your assets is a cornerstone of Will-making. Reflect on your relationships, considering family members, friends, or charitable organisations close to your heart. Clearly define the portions each beneficiary is to receive, specifying if assets are to be distributed equally or in a particular manner. Keep in mind that the dynamics of your relationships and financial situations may change, warranting periodic reviews to ensure your Will aligns with your current intentions.

Appointing Guardians for Minors

If you have dependent children, appointing testamentary guardians is a critical aspect of Will creation. Consider individuals who share your values, parenting style, and are willing to assume the responsibility of caring for your children in your absence. Discuss your intentions with the prospective guardians to ensure their willingness and ability to take on this vital role. While the court ultimately approves the appointment, your expressed wishes hold considerable weight in the decision-making process.

Drafting the Will

Basic Structure and Components

When it comes to drafting your Will in Queensland, a well-organised structure is the key to clarity and legal validity. Below are essential components to consider:

  • Introduction: Begin with a clear and concise introduction, identifying the document as your Last Will and Testament. Include your full name and address to eliminate any confusion.
  • Revocation of Previous Will: Explicitly state the revocation of any prior Wills to ensure your current document takes precedence.
  • Appointment of Executor: Name the person (executor) responsible for administering your estate. Choose someone you trust and communicate your decision with them beforehand.
  • Special Bequests: Specify any specific gifts or bequests to individuals or organisations, such as heirlooms, charitable donations, or monetary gifts.
  • Distribution of Assets: Outline how you want your assets distributed among your beneficiaries. Be clear and specific to avoid potential disputes.
  • Residual Estate: Address the distribution of the remainder of your estate after specific gifts and bequests have been fulfilled. This typically goes to your primary beneficiaries.
  • Conditions and Contingencies: If any conditions or contingencies must be met for beneficiaries to inherit, clearly outline them. This might include age requirements or other life events.
  • Digital Assets and Online Accounts: Account for your digital presence, including online accounts and assets. Specify how you want them handled or transferred.

Witnessing and Signing

Legal Requirements for Witnessing

The witnessing of a Will is a critical step to ensure its validity. Two witnesses are legally required to observe the testator (the person making the Will) signing the document. It’s crucial that these witnesses are present at the same time and can attest to the testator’s mental capacity and voluntary signing of the Will. Without proper witnessing, the document may face challenges in probate.

Who Can Be a Witness?

Witnesses must be at least 18 years old, not a beneficiary or spouse of a beneficiary, and ideally not related to the testator. Their role is to confirm that the testator is of sound mind, under no undue influence, and signing the Will willingly. Choosing impartial and reliable witnesses strengthens the legal standing of your Will.

Signing the Will

The testator should sign at the end of the document in the presence of the witnesses. Each witness, in turn, should sign adjacent to the testator’s signature and provide their full name, address, and occupation. This signing ceremony is a crucial step, underscoring the authenticity and validity of the Will.

Date and Location Considerations

Include the date when signing the Will, as this ensures clarity about the document’s chronological order. While there is no legal requirement for the location of the signing, it is recommended to choose a quiet and private place, free from distractions, to ensure a focused and undisturbed execution of the Will. This precautionary measure minimises the likelihood of errors or challenges in the future.

Storing the Will

Who Keeps the Original Copy of the Will?

Once your Will is signed and witnessed, it’s crucial to store the original document in a safe and accessible place. While there’s no legal requirement dictating who holds the original copy, it’s advisable to keep it in a secure location. Options include a personal safe, a bank’s safety deposit box, a law firm, or entrusting it to a reliable executor. This ensures that the original, and legally binding document remains protected from loss, damage, or unauthorised access.

Informing Key Individuals of the Will’s Location

Inform your executor, trusted family members, or legal representatives where the original Will is stored. Provide clear instructions on how to access it in the event of your passing. Communication is key to avoid delays and uncertainties during the probate process. Additionally, ensure your chosen individuals are aware of any security measures in place to access the document, such as safe combinations or bank access procedures.

Reviewing and Updating Storage Arrangements

Life is dynamic, and so are circumstances. Periodically review and, if necessary, update the storage arrangements of your Will. Changes in living situations, relationships, or the accessibility of your chosen storage location may warrant adjustments. If you decide to move the original Will, be sure to inform relevant parties of the new location and ensure it remains easily retrievable when needed.

Probate Process

When is Probate Required?

Probate is generally required when the deceased person, or the testator, has left behind assets solely in their name. The process involves validating the Will through the legal system. However, certain assets may not require probate, such as jointly held properties, assets under a certain value or assets with designated beneficiaries like life insurance policies or superannuation funds. Understanding when probate is necessary is crucial for a smooth and efficient administration of the estate.

Executors’ Responsibilities During Probate

Executors play a pivotal role during the probate process. Their responsibilities include, if necessary, submitting the Will to the Supreme Court of Queensland to obtain a Grant of Probate, managing the deceased’s assets, paying outstanding debts, and distributing the remaining estate to beneficiaries. Executors must adhere to the legal requirements and timelines, ensuring a diligent and transparent execution of the testator’s wishes.

Timelines and Costs Associated with Probate

The duration of the probate process in Queensland can vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of the estate and potential challenges. On average, obtaining probate may take several months. The process typically involves the following steps:

Publication of Notices

Public notices are often required to alert creditors and potential claimants. An Applicant must lodge a Notice of Intention with the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting and pay the advertising fee. 14 days after your advertisement has appeared online, you can file your application, along with a copy of the notice with the Supreme Court of Queensland. This period allows for any challenges or disputes to be raised.  

Application Lodgment 

The executor lodges the application for a grant of probate along with a copy of the Notice of Intention with the Supreme Court of Queensland. This initiates the legal proceedings.

Court Fees

The application for probate incurs fees payable to the Supreme Court of Queensland. The filing fee is a fixed fee paid at the time of filing your application.  

Court Processing

The court reviews the application, ensuring it meets all legal requirements. This stage can take several weeks as the court manages its caseload.

Collection and Valuation of Assets

The executor gathers information about the deceased’s assets, obtains valuations, and ensures an accurate representation of the estate.

Payment of Debts and Expenses

Before distributing the estate to beneficiaries, the executor must settle outstanding debts, including funeral expenses, taxes, and other liabilities.

Final Distribution

After addressing all legal requirements, the executor can distribute the remaining estate to the beneficiaries.

The costs associated with obtaining probate in Queensland include:

Legal Expenses

Executors often seek legal assistance to navigate the probate process, especially if the estate is complex or if disputes arise. Legal fees can vary based on the complexity of the case and the services provided.

Executor Fees

In some cases, the executor may be entitled to claim a fee for their services. The allowable amount is often specified in the Will, but if not, the court may determine a reasonable fee based on the complexity and size of the estate.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ambiguous Language

One of the most common pitfalls in Will drafting is the use of ambiguous language. Vague or unclear terms can lead to confusion among beneficiaries and potentially result in disputes. An example of ambiguous language might be:

“I leave my property to my siblings to share equally.”

This phrase, while seemingly straightforward, can lead to ambiguity. It doesn’t specify which property is intended, whether it includes real estate, personal belongings, or financial assets. Additionally, it’s hard to determine an ‘equal’ division of an unspecified portion of the estate. Without clarity, this provision could potentially result in disagreements among siblings during the distribution process. 

To avoid such ambiguity, the Will should explicitly detail the specific assets, their values, and how they are to be divided. Seek professional advice if you’re uncertain about the clarity of your language to ensure your intentions are accurately captured.

Failure to Update the Will

Failing to update your Will in line with significant life changes can lead to unintended consequences. Regularly review your Will, especially after major life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or the acquisition of significant assets. An outdated Will may not align with your current wishes and could create complications during the probate process.

Incorrect Execution and Witnessing

The legal validity of your Will hinges on proper execution and witnessing. Failing to follow the correct procedures outlined earlier may render your Will invalid. Ensure that you sign your Will in the presence of two witnesses, both of whom must also sign the document. Select witnesses who are not beneficiaries and meet the legal requirements. Incorrect execution can lead to challenges, delaying the probate process and potentially invalidating your Will.

Not Considering Tax Implications

Overlooking tax implications can impact the overall value of your estate and the inheritances received by beneficiaries. Certain assets may have tax implications upon transfer. Consider things like:

Capital Gains Tax (CGT)

In Queensland, when certain assets, such as real estate or investments, are transferred upon death, they may trigger Capital Gains Tax. However, CGT is often mitigated or exempted for assets passing to a surviving spouse or a charity.

Deceased Estate Tax Returns

The deceased estate may be required to lodge a final tax return, covering the period from the beginning of the financial year until the date of death. The tax implications can vary depending on the income earned by the estate during this period and any applicable deductions.  It is the Executor’s responsibility to ensure that all tax matters are finalised prior to making distribution to the beneficiaries.  Should the Executor distribute the Estate and there is outstanding tax owed, the Executor may become personally  liable for that debt.  

Superannuation and Death Benefits Tax

If the deceased had superannuation, the distribution of these funds may attract taxation. The taxation of superannuation death benefits can differ based on factors such as the relationship between the deceased and the beneficiary.

Asset-Specific Considerations

Different assets may have varying tax implications. For example, the sale of real estate may trigger different tax consequences compared to the transfer of cash assets. The timing of the distribution and sale of assets can also impact the tax outcome.

Charitable Bequests

Leaving assets to charities may have favourable tax implications, as such bequests are often exempt from certain taxes. It’s essential to understand the specific tax treatment of charitable donations to maximise the intended benefit.

Consulting with a tax professional when structuring your Will can help minimise tax burdens on your estate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can an Executor be a Beneficiary?

Yes, it is permissible for an executor to also be a beneficiary in Queensland. However, it’s essential to consider the potential conflicts of interest that may arise. While it’s legally acceptable, some individuals prefer to appoint a neutral executor to avoid any perception of bias. Communicating openly with all parties involved and seeking professional advice can help in making an informed decision that aligns with your intentions.

How Long Does a Will Last?

In Queensland, the typical lifespan of a Will is indefinite unless revoked or replaced by a new Will. However, changes in life circumstances, such as marriage or divorce, may automatically revoke or alter certain provisions in the Will. Regularly reviewing and updating your Will ensures that it reflects your current wishes and remains legally effective.

Does a Will Have to be Registered?

In Queensland, there is no formal requirement to register a Will with a government agency. However, it is crucial to store the original Will in a secure location and inform key individuals, such as the executor and close family members, about its whereabouts. Some people choose to lodge their Will with the Queensland Public Trustee for safekeeping, but this is not a legal requirement. Proper storage and communication of the Will’s location are essential for a smooth probate process.

Call Paramount Legal today