Do-it-yourself wills a potential disaster in the making

Written by: Georgina Pauling
Jun 01 2023

Wills require robust detail to ensure they do what they are designed to do

For most people, a will is often their main asset planning tool which means it is important to ensure it is robust, clearly written and technically correct.

It can be very tempting to go for the cheapest option when preparing a will, such as an online or DIY will kit. However, given the gravity of what is in this hugely important document, expert advice is essential to ensure a will is valid, the wishes within the will can be carried out, and that it doesn’t contain any errors or omissions.

Applications to the High Court can be made to rectify some errors, however this is best avoided if possible as it incurs additional, and often significant, cost to a person’s estate.

There are a wide range of circumstances when an online or DIY will kit might not be the best option such as if:

You want to leave your estate to more than one person

If the will is not clear with its wording, your assets might go somewhere you did not intend them to. If you want your estate to go to two, three, four or more people, a DIY will is unlikely to provide you with such options and can result in the will being too vague and leaving greater opportunity for it to be contested.  

Some of your assets are owned with other people

If you have assets that are not 100% owned by you, you might not be able to include them in your estate. For example, a deceased’s estate won’t include any property that he or she owned jointly with a partner, such as a house. When they pass, the property automatically goes to the surviving owner.

You have children from a previous relationship

Whenever someone has children from a past relationship or marriage it makes their estate more complicated because there are two families who can potentially challenge the estate.

You have an interest in a business or look through company

If you own company shares these will fall into your estate and be dealt with under your will unless there is a shareholder’s agreement addressing what happens upon the death of a shareholder.

If there is no shareholder agreement in place, you may want the shareholding to go to a particular person, someone who can continue to run the company and/or wind up the business, so a specific gift of the shares may be required.

You have an interest in Māori land

The Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 (the Act) dictates how your beneficial interest in Māori freehold land is dealt with and means a person cannot dispose of their interest in a will to whoever they want. The person you wish to leave the land to must belong to a “preferred class” under s108 of the Act.

Additionally, other circumstances where more expertise and detail is needed when writing a will includes:

  • Having a large estate with a wide range of assets
  • You are the settlor of a trust and/or have certain powers under a trust
  • Owning overseas assets
  • Wishing to leave certain family members out of your will
  • Leaving unequal shares to your children
  • Wanting to make equalising gifts to your children and/or forgive any loans
  • Giving a beneficiary a life interest in an asset

If a will is not drafted correctly then the consequences can be that your will is invalid, either in part or in full, your wishes may not be adhered to, and the costs to rectify the errors or to deal with any challenges to the will could be high, time consuming and stressful for your executors and loved ones.

Obtaining expert advice gives you the peace of mind that your will is valid and those who you want to benefit from your estate, will benefit.

Haigh Lyon’s trust and estate planning team can provide valuable advice and assistance when creating a will. For more information contact Anthony Kuran on 09 306 0611 or [email protected].