It's crucial to know the details of your will, says Law Society

It's crucial to know the details of your will, says Law Society

16 October 2014

The New Zealand Law Society is advising people they should not hesitate to check regularly that their will is up-to-date.

Such a check should include where the will is held, whether the status of the key people involved has changed, and a regular review of the contents.

The chair of the Law Society’s Property Law Section, Andrew Logan, says people who have made wills are encouraged to be proactive, particularly if they become aware of a change in the circumstances of someone named in the will.

“For example, if a lawyer holds the will or is named as executor but is no longer in practice, it would be wise to contact the lawyer’s former firm or the attorney who is the lawyer appointed to look after their clients,” he says.

“Contacting the lawyer’s attorney or law firm will give you security in knowing who’s holding the will. It’s probably the most important legal document that most people will be responsible for creating as it sets the scene for who you’re leaving your property to when you die. If it’s not done properly, then inevitably a mess will be left behind.

“Changes to the circumstances of the people who feature in your will need to be the trigger point for you to go back to the lawyer or firm and tell them what has happened. This is also important if your own circumstances change such as you marry, divorce or have children. Remember there could be a cost involved when changing your will,” Mr Logan says

He says if people shift law firms or change their lawyer, they can also create a new will, with a clause stating that it is the current and definitive document which must be followed. A new will automatically revokes the old will.

Mr Logan says the successful creation and execution of a will relies on clear communication between the testator and the lawyer, as there is no central registry of wills in New Zealand.

“There isn’t one as it would be virtually impossible to keep track of everyone’s wills. Some people change their wills every year and some change it every 20 years. People freely shift regions or cities as well as change law firms,” Mr Logan says.

He says the sad consequence of not leaving clear instructions or advice on where the will is held can be an estate which faces possible claims and expenses as family fight out their entitlements in court.

“A lot of the claims that are made against estates – particularly under the Family Protection Act – are as a result of people not understanding what their obligations to their family entail.”

The New Zealand Law Society's branches and publications regularly advertise missing wills for those who are trying to locate the last will made by a relative who has died.