The best wills and estates lawyers in Canberra

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Amber Wang, Emily Shoemark, Julia Bridgewater

Amber Wang, Emily Shoemark and Julia Bridgewater, directors at Snedden Hall & Gallop. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re thinking about making a will. Perhaps you have passed a major milestone – purchased a property, recently married, welcomed a child, or lost a loved one. While these key moments are common triggers, anyone over the age of eighteen should have a will in place.

But what exactly is a will? In short, a will is a legal document that instructs how your assets and affairs will be managed once you pass away. It typically covers who you want to inherit your estate, care for your children, and execute your wishes. With much stake, a will is perhaps one of the most important documents that you will craft in your lifetime. So too is the decision of which lawyer you engage to assist.

A poorly considered or homemade will kit can be subject to flaws or incomplete. These missed pieces can make your will easier to challenge, leading to estate disputes further down the track. Otherwise known as estate litigation, these claims can not only take years to resolve, they also place a strain on family and loved ones. Importantly, estate litigation can negatively impact estate value, reducing its overall financial worth.

Those seeking a better provision from a deceased estate will know this feeling well. So too will those who are questioning will validity, executor decisions, and unreasonable asset distribution. Furthermore, complexities can be compounded by the number and nature of eligible contesters to a will.

Whether you are drafting your first will, updating an old one, or considering contesting, some sound legal counsel can help. That is where Canberra’s finest wills and estate lawyers come into play. As specialist practitioners of estate law, wills and estate lawyers are well versed in the intricacies of persons and property.

Within the context of Australia’s legal landscape estate law is known to be particularly delicate, with close links to the family law realm. An experienced and skilful lawyer uses this expertise to guide clients through the end-to-end process. They help them assess risks and benefits at each stage and ensure decisions are made which support individual circumstances. But how do I separate a great wills and estates lawyer from the rest? Read on below to find out more.

What makes a great wills and estates lawyer?

A great wills and estate lawyer is a beacon of light in the world of estate law. They not only ensure your final wishes are covered by the letter of the law, they also assist when there is doubt. To help find the right lawyer consider keeping the following in mind:

  • Qualified & experienced. There are good law firms and then there are great ones. All good law firms boast highly qualified legal practitioners with years of formal education and practical training. The best compound this offer by adding experience and reputation into the mix. A great wills and estate lawyer should have the experience and expertise to approach to your estate affairs holistically. At a minimum they should consider the structure of your assets, any businesses you are a part of, and the care and guardianship of your children.
  • Reputable. Reputable lawyers are known for being leaders in their field, ensuring considered and well thought out advice. Indeed the best wills and estate lawyers often come recommended. Speak to colleagues, friends and family, other lawyers, and verify with some research. Consider professional and peer recommendations, past client reviews, and a firm’s general reputation.
  • Estate law specialists. While it may be tempting, try not to settle for a law firm that “also does wills”. Why? Because much like other facets of law, estate law is a highly complex and specialised arena. Your best bet is to choose a firm with a specialist team that focuses on wills and estate planning. This means they are equipped to manage a will, and other related services as well. Think along the lines of an enduring power of attorney, binding death benefit nomination and so on. Not only will they offer the experience you need to navigate this area, they will also be more likely to provide a service tailored to your needs.
  • Access to ancillary services. In addition to a will, your estate plan may require a raft of additional services. These may include an enduring power of attorney, binding death benefit nomination, or other estate planning document. It may not be as easy as you anticipate, but firms and lawyers specialising in wills and estate planning will know exactly what to do.
  • Sensitive. Estate planning can involve complex family dynamics and emotionally charged considerations. You may want a lawyer who not only knows the law, but has a high degree of emotional intelligence. Look for a lawyer who will listen to your story, assess any risks to your estate planning, and provide advice tailored to your circumstances.

The best wills and estates lawyers in Canberra

Riotact’s editorial team has combed through 20 years of on-site comments to compile a list of the most recommended businesses according to you.

To be listed in our Best of Canberra series, each business needs to have consistently received positive feedback on Riotact and maintain a minimum average of 4/5 stars on both Google and Facebook reviews.

Snedden Hall & Gallop

Snedden Hall & Gallop

Snedden Hall & Gallop’s Wills and Estates team know how important it is that every adult has a will so their estate is left to the people they care about – your property should be shared in the way you want it shared. They have seen too many families having to deal with the complications and unnecessary expense for those left behind when a loved one dies without a will or with a poorly prepared will.

The Wills and Estates team, led by Julia Bridgewater, can help you with everything to do with wills and estate planning, including testamentary trusts, estate disputes, family provision claims, and probate and estate administration. They understand that families are complicated, and they can help ensure that your wishes are reflected in your will and other estate planning documents.

As Alayna Sixsmith writes in their Google review, "We have been using Snedden, Hall & Gallop Lawyers for some years now, they have looked after us with our Wills and Commercial/business needs... [and] have been nothing but professional, friendly, helpful and looked after our best interests... Given the experience we have had over the years dealing with different lawyers for different matters I would happily recommend them to anybody and everybody."

43-49 Geils Court
Deakin ACT 2600
MV Law

MV Law

MV Law delivers expert legal advice, guidance, and representation right here in Canberra. With a team of multi-disciplinary professionals, you can expect a hassle-free will service tailored to your specific needs. MV Law recognises the particular delicacy when it comes to handling wills and estates, and always puts its clients’ best interest as the number one priority - you can be confident your assets are protected and distributed to beneficiaries as you intend upon your death.

The team’s stellar qualifications speak for themselves – four of MV Law's expert lawyers have recently been recognised amongst the best in the country, named in The Best Lawyers in Australia 2021 List. Rest assured that not only are you in extremely capable and professional hands at Meyer Vandenberg, but that you are also receiving the best service in the country.

As Terri Stiller writes in their Google review, “I went to [MV Law] to have my Will and EPOA drawn up. The service I received was outstanding, even through COVID 19 lock down period. They kept in touch, progressed my documents and gave me safe and secure options to submit my documents back to them. I found all the staff I had contact with to be friendly, professional and very helpful.”

Level 2, 121 Marcus Clarke Street
Canberra City ACT 2601
DDCS Lawyers

DDCS Lawyers

DDCS Lawyers provide a full suite of wills and estate planning legal services. An award-winning firm, DDCS Lawyers has a reputation for providing some of the best legal advice in Canberra.

The firm’s dynamic team of lawyers, with a breadth of experience and diverse backgrounds, has helped thousands of clients to protect their assets and loved ones with wills and estate planning. Services include estate disputes, probate and deceased estate administration, enduring power of attorney arrangements, testamentary trust arrangements and Elder law.

DDCS knows what matters most and provides experienced, client centred and committed legal services focused on ensuring the best outcomes for clients. Their lawyers are some of Canberra's best and DDCS prides itself on being highly respected by clients and other professionals.

As satisfied client Anne Thompson wrote on Google, “We received good advice, kindness, direction and understanding in our estate issue. The legal guidance received throughout has been appreciated and enabled us to reach an amicable conclusion."

18 Kendall Lane
Canberra CIty ACT 2601
Baker Deane & Nutt

Baker Deane & Nutt

Drafting wills can be a confronting process, requiring careful consideration and attention. Baker Deane & Nutt Lawyers (BDN) can tailor wills to suit your unique needs – from property to business ownership and investment. And, to make things easier their online will kit captures client wishes with lawyers crafting a valid will thereafter.

BDN has serviced the legal needs of those in the Canberra & Queanbeyan region for over 150 years. It ensures client affairs are secured in preparation for the future.

If you’re looking to create a will that benefits and protects the interests of all parties involved, Baker Deane & Nutt could be the firm for you.

As Facebook user Chris Griffin writes in their review, "Had great assistance with a lawyer coming out to a house bound family member to complete everything required, great personal service and highly recommend to anyone."

Level 1, 1 Farrel Place
Canberra City ACT 2601

BAL Lawyers

Situated in the heart of Canberra, BAL Lawyers boasts a stellar reputation and impressive track record for achieving positive client outcomes. With a wealth of experience and deep understanding of all areas of estates law, BAL Lawyers takes a holistic approach to estate planning. It takes the time to consider your individual personal, family and financial circumstances to ensure clients’ wishes are understood and carried out. Its team also provides personalised advice about non-standard or complex legal issues in estates and guardianship matters.

Gabrielle Meyer wrote on Google, "I engaged BAL to manage my Mother’s estate. I appreciated the clear advice, prompt action and follow up along with timely and helpful communications. I intend to use the firm for future legal matters."

Are you looking for more recommendations of lawyers in Canberra? Check out our articles on the best probate services or best law firms in Canberra for some helpful information.

If you are facing an estate dispute and want to resolve it outside of the courts, check out our list of the top mediation and conflict resolution services in Canberra.

Your experience with wills and estates lawyers in Canberra

Thanks to our commenters who have provided insightful feedback. If you believe we have got it wrong, please let us know.

Have you had experience with any of the law firms listed above? If so, share your feedback in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a wills and estate lawyer?

Wills and estate lawyers specialise in managing your legal and personal affairs leading up to and in the event of your death. They help clients to draft wills and trusts, elect executors and trustees, and produce other documents that will assist with the administration of the your estate once you have passed away, or during periods when you are incapacitated.

Why should I hire a wills and estate lawyer?

While DIY and "simple" wills do exist, there are numerous and specific requirements that determine the legitimacy of wills - an improperly drawn will can invite challenge and dispute. A wills and estate lawyer is fully trained in the construction and management of wills, and will be able to ensure that your will is properly and legitimately drawn up so as to avoid any headaches down the line.

Do I need a will?

Generally, you should draw up a will when you get married, have kids or have a positive net worth. However, many lawyers advise getting a will before this as dying without a will (dying intestate) means anyone you have had a significant relationship with (including past partners and estranged family members) can have a claim on your estate. In order to protect your belongings and assets, and make sure they are passed on to the right person or place once you pass away, consider drawing up a will sooner rather than later.

What do I need to consider when drawing up my will?

There are many things to consider when drawing up your will - for example, who the executor will be, who the beneficiaries will be, and what you are going to include in your will. Consulting a wills and estate lawyer and making sure that your will is being drawn up in accordance with your state's laws is the best way to ensure that all the requirements are met and nothing crucial is forgotten.

What can I include in my will?

Aside from specific instructions such as who the executor and beneficiaries are, and guardians for your children, your will covers the assets that you wish to be divided, and how. These assets can include things like personal items, bank accounts, insurance policies, businesses and properties. If there are some assets or instructions you wish to include in your will that you're unsure about, consult your wills and estate lawyer and get their professional, legal advice on the matter.

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jessieduck said :

Thanks everyone for the info. At 32 it’s not something I thought was necessary but we’ve learnt the hard way that as soon as you have kids and assets you really need to get a will.

You are a smart person, age is irrelevant IMHO and you have made a good point. When I get some time away from work as my will is hopelessly out of date.

Curiously, the NSW Public Trustee charges only half as much as the ACT one, since their sliding scale goes in increments of $100,000 rather than $200,000:
Up to $100,000 – 4.4%
From $100,001 to $200,000 – 3.3%
From $200,001 to $300,000 – 2.2%
$300,000 and above – 1.1%

Apparently the charges are set by the state/territory government.

Kurrajong said :

On the Public Trustee charges, I confirmed with them that they would charge 4% to transfer the title of a family property to our child.

That amounted to $26,0000 !!! .

Jeepers that’s a ton of moolah. On second thoughts it might be best to just go to a normal lawyer.

Thanks everyone for the info. At 32 it’s not something I thought was necessary but we’ve learnt the hard way that as soon as you have kids and assets you really need to get a will.

On the Public Trustee charges, I confirmed with them that they would charge 4% to transfer the title of a family property to our child.

That amounted to $26,0000 !!! to do what a family executor or solicitor could do at the Land Titles office for something like a couple of hundred dollars.

It convinced me that it was better to go with a family executor who was willing to do the job and a solicitor as fallback.

RedDogInCan said :

The Public Trustee charges a fee to write up your will and a % fee only if they are the executors of the estate, which is not mandatory. My will was written up by the Public Trustee and only nominates them as the executor of last resort – that is only if my other nominations refuse to do it.

At least the Public Trustee specifies a fixed fee up front. As the executor of two estates my experience is that wills and estates bring out the worst gouging in lawyers. The more complex it is, the more reasons they find to charge you. We even had one lawyer tell us not to worry about the legal fees as ‘it is paid from the estate’.

The Public Trustee website currently says “The Public Trustee can prepare your Will only where nominated as the Executor to administer your estate.” Is that a change since you had yours done?

I’m rather put off by the fees quoted:
• assets up to $200,000 4.40%
• next $200,000 (ie $200,000-$400,000) 3.30%
• next $200,000 (ie $400,000-$600,000) 2.20%
• greater than $600,000 1.10%

Given the price of houses these days and the amount of money needed to fund retirement, these %s would quickly add up to a lot (if you haven’t lived to spend it all). Is this really the standard rate?

RedDogInCan, as someone who’s been an executor and knows the work involved, do you think these fees are reasonable? Is it so much work that family members would rather not be asked to be the executor, and have the estate pay this much to lawyers instead? I’d really like to know.

troll-sniffer6:03 pm 11 Sep 12

shirty_bear said :

We used Colquhoun Murphy in Braddon … no hassles, no complaints.

+1 for these guys, hassle free conveyancing for me last time.

MelonHead said :

Read the fine print if you decide to use the Public Trustee. In my case, they offered “free will” to my mother with the proviso that they be named executors. An offer too good to be true. Had the family known, we would have paid almost any solicitor any reasonable fee.

When came time to execute this will, the Public Trustee were as uncaring as you could possibly be. As well as quite rude and difficult to deal with.

They had the last laugh. Their fee was 4%. Of the GROSS VALUE OF ALL ASSETS. Not net value. Not some reasonable fee.

After the estate was finalised, the family calculated we had paid about 2.5 to 3 times the cost of any competent solicitor’s execution of a similar estate. This estimate was based on a spate of deaths in the family at the time.

These event happened more than 10 years ago, but a quick look at the Public Trustee web site seems to indicate that not much has changed.

Get reputable and competent solicitor. Pay them for their time and expertise. Enjoy the knowledge that the job is done right.

You could always take a copy, make your own and nominate your own Executor(s). Or sign the one they offer and make a new one the next day “This is my last will and testament”. But the Public Trustee has always worked well in my experience. And RedDogInCan 2 #5 these things bring out the worst in (potential) beneficiaries as well as laywers…..so lock it in as best you can but don’t put it off…..

Rebecca Tetlow at the newly merged Bradley Allen Love (6274 0999 or http://www.bradleyallen.com.au) and Paul Salinas at Certus Law (6268 9090 or http://www.certuslaw.com.au) have both looked after clients of mine very well and I am happy to recommend.

Both participate in regular estate planning seminars so are very current in the field.

We used Colquhoun Murphy in Braddon … no hassles, no complaints.

colourful sydney racing identity1:56 pm 11 Sep 12

MelonHead said :

Read the fine print if you decide to use the Public Trustee. In my case, they offered “free will” to my mother with the proviso that they be named executors. An offer too good to be true. Had the family known, we would have paid almost any solicitor any reasonable fee.

When came time to execute this will, the Public Trustee were as uncaring as you could possibly be. As well as quite rude and difficult to deal with.

They had the last laugh. Their fee was 4%. Of the GROSS VALUE OF ALL ASSETS. Not net value. Not some reasonable fee.

After the estate was finalised, the family calculated we had paid about 2.5 to 3 times the cost of any competent solicitor’s execution of a similar estate. This estimate was based on a spate of deaths in the family at the time.

These event happened more than 10 years ago, but a quick look at the Public Trustee web site seems to indicate that not much has changed.

Get reputable and competent solicitor. Pay them for their time and expertise. Enjoy the knowledge that the job is done right.

the fees outlined on their website are pretty standard for an executor, if anything they are a bit lower than most.

Read the fine print if you decide to use the Public Trustee. In my case, they offered “free will” to my mother with the proviso that they be named executors. An offer too good to be true. Had the family known, we would have paid almost any solicitor any reasonable fee.

When came time to execute this will, the Public Trustee were as uncaring as you could possibly be. As well as quite rude and difficult to deal with.

They had the last laugh. Their fee was 4%. Of the GROSS VALUE OF ALL ASSETS. Not net value. Not some reasonable fee.

After the estate was finalised, the family calculated we had paid about 2.5 to 3 times the cost of any competent solicitor’s execution of a similar estate. This estimate was based on a spate of deaths in the family at the time.

These event happened more than 10 years ago, but a quick look at the Public Trustee web site seems to indicate that not much has changed.

Get reputable and competent solicitor. Pay them for their time and expertise. Enjoy the knowledge that the job is done right.

Thanks guys. Our own estate won’t be overly complicated, it’s just that we also need to have a lawyer witness some other documentation so I think the Public Trustees might be perfect. Just outside the scope of Will Kit territory,

Hey, here’s something you might not know. If you want to donate your body to science, you can’t unless it is in writing. It’s not the same as donating organs (ie, you’ve indicated your consent and then the family OKs it) Unfortunately we just learned this the hard way and had to go through a crappy cremation experience instead of being able to do what the deceased had wished for. Fun times.

mezza76 said :

Please be aware that public trustees also charge a % fee based on the nature of your will and estate when it is executed. That’s always been a turnoff for me – although the fees in itself wouldn’t be huge – I’d just rather pay upfront. More info can be found here:
http://www.publictrustee.act.gov.au/wills

The Public Trustee charges a fee to write up your will and a % fee only if they are the executors of the estate, which is not mandatory. My will was written up by the Public Trustee and only nominates them as the executor of last resort – that is only if my other nominations refuse to do it.

At least the Public Trustee specifies a fixed fee up front. As the executor of two estates my experience is that wills and estates bring out the worst gouging in lawyers. The more complex it is, the more reasons they find to charge you. We even had one lawyer tell us not to worry about the legal fees as ‘it is paid from the estate’.

Ross Watch at Tetlow Tigwell Watch lectured on wills and stuff at the ANU/legal workshop for years and on law society committees etc, so might be worth a go.

As Kurrajong said, dont get too complicated. Firstly, its only relevant after you are dead so don’t try to control your money too much – you don’t care by that stage. Secondly, the more complicated the more costly (both now and in the future). Drawing up a simple will will take a few hours, if you start having trusts and complicated requirements you are looking at 10hrs+ (at $400 per hour).

We are going through the same process ourselves and are looking at a lawyer rather than a public trustee.

Please be aware that public trustees also charge a % fee based on the nature of your will and estate when it is executed. That’s always been a turnoff for me – although the fees in itself wouldn’t be huge – I’d just rather pay upfront. More info can be found here:
http://www.publictrustee.act.gov.au/wills

We’ll probably give Slater & Gordon Online Will a go and see how that works out given our estate will be quite simple. I think the fee is about $150.
https://online.slatergordon.com.au/sgo/

Very happy with Public Trustee experience. – probably depends on how complex your needs are, but it would be worth calling them anyway.

I have used Dibbs Barker in Canberra House for many years.

If children are involved, I would seriously look at your will creating a Testamentary Trust rather than a simple distribution of your estate. It costs more to set up but it leaves them with many advantages and protection of assets.

Don’t make the will too complex and have a good hard think about what you need before you go to the lawyer, or you will end up paying for their time to unpack it from your head.

Alternatively, look at the Public Trustee in London Circuit. Their website lists the fees which are a few hundred dollars.

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