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’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."
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."
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.”
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."
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."
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.