Controlling your assets the way you want

Half of all Australians die without a will, according to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. If that happens to you, the law decides where your assets go, potentially favouring relatives you resent. So making a will is vital - but it can cost thousands of dollars if you use professional channels. Here are some tips on how to do it yourself with intense attention to detail.

Half of all Australians die without a will, according to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. If that happens to you, the law decides where your assets go, potentially favouring relatives you resent. So making a will is vital - but it can cost thousands of dollars if you use professional channels. Here are some tips on how to do it yourself with intense attention to detail.

1 Harness online resources First, hop on the internet and study some sample wills to strengthen your grasp of how to structure yours. The template provided by a do-it-yourself downloadable will kit, costing between $20 and $300, can help, but remember to read the disclaimers.

2 Be picky about the key players Find the most objective witnesses possible - those with least to inherit. The executor, the person who carries out the terms of your will, should be someone set to outlive you.

3 Sound out the rellies Discuss plans with your family and even seek their input, estate planner Bruce Cameron says. "It doesn't hurt to know ahead of time which of your family members wants your collection of garden gnomes, grandma's china or the silver tea service," Cameron says.

4 Keep it explicit Be exact. Instead of identifying heirs by name alone, include details such as their birth date, address and relationship to you. Likewise, include the legal description of your street address on the deed. Instead of just listing a charity by name, give detailed contact information.

5 Insert stopgaps State where your assets will go if heirs and beneficiaries prove unable or unwilling to claim their inheritance. For instance, the beneficiary might predecease you. Or, if a beneficiary is a charity, it might have stopped operating.

6 Don't preach Resist the urge to hit back from the grave. A clause saying "X" will only inherit if they quit gambling or drinking may spark court battles, Cameron says.

7 Keep tweaking Do not think you can just write your will once and then relax. Regularly update and rewrite it, reviewing it whenever you undergo changes such as the birth of a child, divorce or retirement. Revision may also be necessary when you open a new bank account, buy a car or move house.

8 Know the neighbourhood Mug up on your state's inheritance rules; these can vary depending on your location, lawyer Shane Fischer warns. The federal government's "Wills and powers of attorney" webpage offers state-specific information.

9 Exclude the estranged Skip bequeathing peanuts to disenfranchised friends and family. For instance, forget leaving a dollar to the daughter you have not talked to in years, because she could cause havoc with your estate by challenging your will, Fischer warns. If you want to disinherit the person, write: "I do not leave anything for 'X', my daughter. This is intentional," Fischer says.

10 Pinpoint the paperwork Reveal the location of your will, Fischer says. Otherwise, your heirs may pick your home apart in search of the intel. If they fail, you may get cremated when you should be buried.

Planning a will? There are links and more at: theage.com.au/money

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