COMMENT:

If you die without a will, you could leave a right costly mess behind you.

"It will be expensive, difficult for your family and your assets will probably not go where you want them to," says Jan Middlemiss of Perpetual Guardian.

For example, money you intend to leave to your children may end up in your partner's kids' hands.

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I asked Middlemiss for her top tips on creating the perfect will, if there is such a thing. At best you could avoid a bunfight when you go, which often happens with even the best of families.

Be wary of DIY wills

You can write your own will on a piece of paper. Don't. Even simple estates can be more complex than you think.

You may not get some very important details correct. Wills are one of those things where you don't know what you don't know and sometimes talking with a real human can bring out issues you may never have considered.

"Wills are affordable and a properly drafted, signed and witnessed will is likely to save your family money in the long run," says Middlemiss.

Make sure that if you are drafting an online will, the company offering them has legal staff members who review what you've done.

Choose your executor carefully

Don't choose a member of the family. I've seen this go awry in a big way. The executor really needs to know what they are doing, to be able to deal honestly and independently with your assets and also sympathetically with your family, says Middlemiss.

They also need to be capable of acting when you die, which may not be the case if you haven't reviewed your will for years.

Include your funeral instructions

Talk to your family about what type of funeral you want and your wishes on matters like organ donation, says Middlemiss.

Sometimes instructions can save your beneficiaries from big family battles.

Appoint guardians for children

Make sure you tell them you've appointed them, says Middlemiss. It would be a major shock to suddenly find out you've inherited a few more children.

Consider a trust

This is especially important if you have a blended family. Otherwise there's a good chance you'll leave some very bitter and twisted loved ones behind. Make sure your executor and trustee are independent.

You should write a will even if you have a trust as it will cover things not owned by the trust like appointing guardians, funeral instructions and what to do with your personal effects.

The money and assets in a trust are not included in your estate when you die but remain in the trust.

Be honest

If your lawyer or trustee company don't know complete family and financial circumstances, they cannot give you good advice. If not, expect more combat in the form of claims under the Family Protection Act, Property (Relationships) Act or Testamentary Promises Act.

These laws can override the wishes in your will if it's not drafted well. For example, you can't leave out of your will someone you have a moral obligation to look after.

Update it

Wills are not set and forget, says out Middlemiss. Your personal circumstances do change over time. So review it regularly to take account of your current reality. A few hundred dollars now could save thousands in the long run.

Tell your family or someone you trust where to find your will

This will save a lot of time and phone calls for your family after you have died, says Middlemiss.

Having seen wills go wrong, my advice is just do it if you haven't already and update it if it's getting old. Don't be a possum in the headlights simply because you're not 100 per cent sure who to give the money to or even if you think you don't have anything to give. You're not immortal. As the old adage goes: A stitch in time saves nine.