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Will writing: How to get started on your wills and estate planning

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Michael Spiegel says when his mother died, his sister took everything and ran.

“It was nothing I ever expected and it’s something I share openly because it was a blindside for me.

“My parents’ will wasn’t air-tight and that unfortunately happened.

“So, it can happen.”

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Mr Spiegel, who is Trustee Services executive general manager at State Trustees, said every time he tells that story, someone says something similar happened in their family.

“It’s quite an unspoken prevalent reality out there, and I just really encourage people to have the conversations and set [their will] up.”

Mr Spiegel said regardless of whether you have children you should have a will once you have assets, even if you feel uncomfortable discussing what happens after you die.

“People don’t like talking about their own death,” he said.

Where to start

Mr Spiegel said a good way to start is to explain to your family that you want to make sure they are taken care of after you’re gone.

“Let people know why you are organising this and what you’ve accounted for and share as much as you are comfortable with,” he said.

“A lot of family strife that happens, happens because people get blindsided.”

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It can often spark conflict when someone doesn’t tell their child that they are the executor and fails to explain this decision to their other children, Mr Spiegel said.

Trouble can arise when you opt to split your wealth unevenly between your family and don’t explain your reasoning for this.

Mr Spiegel said apart from minors’ guardianships and major assets, accounting for sentimental items like jewellery, photos or treasured record collections is also important to avoid discord and ensure your wishes are followed.

“Families are messy constructs,” he said.

“We have seen families have big fights over a green velvet chair, over golf clubs, and it’s all [for] sentimental reasons.”

The cost of will writing

Mr Spiegel said often people put off making a will because they don’t know what to do and they assume it’s difficult, when in fact the process is relatively simple and easy.

You can have a basic will kit sent to you for about $35 from State Trustees, or you can fill out an interactive will that walks you through the process by asking questions, which costs about $120 and takes about 30 minutes to complete.

If you have more complicated circumstances such as a blended family or ownership of a business, it can be worth booking a consultation with a will writer, which costs about $200.

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Once you have a will, don’t forget to tell your loved ones where it is stored, whether it is in your home, with state and territory public trustees or a law firm.

You should update your will when major life circumstances change, such as having a child or separating from a partner.

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