Shocked by the sudden death of a loved one, Charissa Mackenzie was thankful for one thing – they had left an up-to-date will.
“She passed away as a result of an accident and the sudden nature of that was a shock to us all,” she says. “To me, she had always been a strong member of our family and when she passed, I remember experiencing a flurry of emotions and grief.”
Mackenzie, who is a Principal Trustee at Public Trust, was speaking ahead of Public Trust 2023 Wills Week. Held between July 17-23, it is aimed at reminding Kiwis of the importance of getting a will to help protect what matters to them and to leave a legacy for their loved ones.
Mackenzie says about half of all New Zealanders have a will (not all of which will be up to date) and, new research shows, is a topic which can be uncomfortable because it requires people to think about their own death.
When her grandmother died, Mackenzie, who has been helping New Zealanders of all ages write wills for 27 years, experienced the wisdom of having an up to date will in a personal way.
“Knowing what she wanted (through her will) made all the difference because I just wanted to be her granddaughter and a daughter for my father,” she says. “I didn’t need to be Charissa from Public Trust; I could step back with my family and be present in what mattered.”
Mackenzie says her grandmother’s will not only contained her pre-organised funeral wishes but stipulated what she wanted to leave for every member of her large family - all of which made it easier for the family to cope with her loss.
“She had nine children of her own and many grandchildren and the experience of losing someone like that is difficult,” she says. “When it happens you suffer shock, grief, tiredness and often family members have different expectations about what they will be left. There can be a lot of family dynamics in play when someone passes.
“Having a will is an anchoring point for those left behind. I can still see my dad holding the will and saying, ‘this is what mum wanted’; having that creates peace for families.”
Mackenze says Wills Week highlights not only the importance of having a will but to show that everyone has something that matters to pass on to their loved ones. People don’t realise how important wills and, she says, writing one isn’t as hard as people think; through Public Trust it can be done online.
A research paper commissioned by Public Trust - Intergenerational Wealth and published last month - shows 20 per cent of New Zealanders don’t feel they have enough wealth to worry about protecting.
But Mackenzie says everyone who has children, over $15,000 in savings, an asset like property, shares or KiwiSaver or who have recently married/separated or intend to do so, needs an up-to-date will and an executor (like Public Trust) to carry out its instructions.
“If you don’t have one, then your belongings are distributed as per the law, not your wishes,” she says. “This process takes longer, costs significantly more and means you may miss the opportunity to leave a meaningful legacy for the people you love.
“While leaving financial gifts for people is very important, wills can help with passing on the family business, leaving a prized collection to someone that would appreciate it or providing for your beloved pet.
“Naming a testamentary guardian for your children is also very important, as it allows you to play a role in your child’s life, and know they are taken care of if you’re no longer around.”
Mackenzie says wills may also need to be updated if you sell a significant asset or acquire a new one (such as a house) or your relationship status changes through a re-marriage or separation.
In the new research, most New Zealanders indicated they want to leave a legacy – 85 per cent wanting to leave an emotional legacy and 71 per cent a financial one. Other findings revealed that receiving a legacy can make people feel happy (35 per cent), secure (28 per cent) and feel connected to their culture (12 per cent).
A legacy can help reduce debt and enable people to purchase their first home, the research showing 95 per cent of millennials have received help to do this and 57 per cent of New Zealanders in total.
Mackenzie says there are several reasons why people either don’t have a will, or don’t update them. “A lot just don’t know where to start or it comes down to ‘a get-around-to’ or they don’t realise what the triggers are – for example changes in relationships or a financial situation.”
Mackenzie says a wide range of wishes are being written into wills including allowing for donations to charities. “Some people are even setting up their own charities while providing for their pets is important to many people. They want to ensure they are re-homed and will be looked after.”
As part of Wills Week, ZM hosts Fletch, Vaughan and Hayley will write their wills online at publictrust. Each will talk to a special item they’d leave in their will for someone special and the story behind it.
They will invite listeners to register at zmonline and talk about a special item they would like to leave and what it means to them. At the end of the week the best item and story will win $1000.
All who register will receive 20 per cent off a will online at Publictrust
To make a will go to: publictrust.co.nz/products-and-services/making-a-will
For more information visit: publictrust