Many people feel overwhelmed thinking about preparing a will and put off recording their wishes longer than they should.

However, the process of preparing a will isn’t as complicated as it seems.

Not sure how to prepare a will or how to get your will done properly, so that your wishes are carried out after your passing? It all comes down to knowing how to make a will with a lawyer, which is why we’ve written this guide so you know exactly what to expect when you see one of the will preparation and estate planning specialists at Johnston Withers Lawyers.


How long will the first appointment take?

Depending on your circumstances, you should allow half an hour to an hour for your first will preparation appointment with one of our lawyers. We’re commonly asked by clients, “What do I need to prepare a will?” and in most circumstances, you don’t need to do much before the appointment, besides have a think over the topics below. You don’t need to prepare written answers, or come to a final decision about what to record in your will – our lawyers assist you with that!


Questions to ask when preparing a will

When writing a will with a lawyer, they’ll first ask you about the following topics:


First, you’ll be asked about your family and the people in your close circle. Your lawyer will ask you about the names and the relationship you have with your spouse or partner, children, parents, siblings and grandchildren. You’ll be asked about any former spouse or domestic partner(s).

At the end of this discussion we should have a clear idea of your family tree, and we will be able to advise you about people who might be able to bring a claim against your estate under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act 1972 (SA) – if you want more information, check out our article on Who can contest a will in South Australia (and how to do it).

Assets and Liabilities

We’ll also discuss your assets and liabilities (those that you own personally and those you own jointly with others or in which you may have an interest e.g. a trust) and their value.

We’ll go through your assets with you to explain to you what would occur to these assets ordinarily upon your passing.

For example, if you own property as joint tenants with another, ownership will pass automatically to the other owner or owners upon the surviving owner noting your death. Jointly owned assets don’t form part of your estate (see our article on Joint tenants vs. tenants in common – what’s the difference?). We’ll also go through what happens to your superannuation and the importance of a binding death nomination.

It’s helpful if you’ve thought about (and, if possible, made a list) of the following assets and values before your appointment:

  • Any real estate

  • Superannuation entitlements including any self-managed superannuation funds

  • Savings

  • Shares/investments

  • Private companies

  • Trusts (discretionary, unit, etc.)

  • Car

  • Any other assets

Also, think about the following liabilities (and values):

  • Mortgage

  • Personal loans

  • Car finance

  • Credit cards

  • Any other debts

Preparing a will: What are your wishes?

After discussing your family and financial situation, we’ll have a much better understanding of your personal circumstances. This allows us to provide you with advice and guidance about your will and tailor it to reflect your wishes.

You’ll be asked to make the following decisions as part of the will preparation process:

Who do you want your executor to be?

Your executor stands in your shoes when you pass away. Their job is to call in the assets of the estate, pay off the liabilities and distribute your estate in accordance with your wishes. We recommend that your executor be someone you trust, who has a reasonable understanding of your affairs.

We usually recommend that you appoint one or two people as your executors, with one or two people appointed as a backup, in case your first choice dies before you or is otherwise unwilling or unable to act.

Would you like any specific items gifted?

The executor’s role will be to call in and liquidate the assets of the estate. You should consider whether there are any items such as family heirlooms or sentimental items that you’d like gifted to a specific person rather than be sold, and converted to cash.

Are there any monetary amounts you’d like left to anyone?

This includes any consideration of charitable or religious requests (gifts).

Who would you like to receive your estate?

This is usually dealt with by way of residue (ie. what is left over once your assets are called in and your debts paid and specific gifts and legacies distributed), rather than setting out who gets what monetary sum. The reason for this is that your net worth will change over time and you don’t want to update your will every time this occurs!

Once you’ve worked out who you want your beneficiaries to be, consider what you’d like to happen if they have died before you. Would you like their interest to go to their child/children, or is there an alternative beneficiary that you’d prefer?

Depending on your circumstances, you may require a trust (such as testamentary, special disability or protective trust), a right to reside in property, a contract for mutual wills (see our article on Contracts for Wills) or the gift of power of appointment in a discretionary trust.

Guardianship of infant children

If you have infant children you may want to express your wishes on who should care for your children in their infancy.

Burial or cremation

Finally, if you have a strong preference on whether you’d like to be buried or cremated it should be recorded in your will.


Preparing your will: Next steps

After our meeting we’ll prepare your draft Will. This will be sent to you so you can read it over at home. Once you’ve read over the document and made any necessary changes, we’ll arrange a second appointment where we go over the document with you. When you’re happy with the content and understand your will, it can be signed. You’ll then have a legally binding Will, and peace of mind about what will happen after your passing.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.


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Johnston Withers Lawyers are experienced in providing advice on will preparation and estate planning. We’re happy to work with you to discuss your will and make the process as simple as possible. If you’d like advice from one of our will and estate lawyers, please contact Caitlin Walkington on (08) 8231 1110, or send us a message.


Rosemary Caruso, Director at Johnston Withers Lawyers.

Rosemary is a director at Johnston Withers Lawyers. 

Rosemary exclusively practises in wills and estates matters, and has done so since 2009. She’s a longstanding member of the Law Society of South Australia’s Succession and Elder Law Committee as well as the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners’ SA Branch.

With an academic background in engineering and law, Rosemary brings a uniquely analytical perspective to the team and uses it to find innovative solutions.

She understands that wills and estates can be a sensitive matter, and prides herself on providing empathetic, practical advice to her clients in a timely manner.