Your will has been drawn up, witnessed and safely filed with your executor or financial planner. Signed, sealed and delivered. Or maybe not. As is the case with most legal documents, the language you use when you draft a will can have a significant effect on how the document is interpreted in a court of law. Read on to find out more.

Choose your words carefully

While you might think it is a case of simple semantics, the language you use in your will can end up having a negative effect on your family after your death. Consider the following examples:

  • Children: If you nominated your children in your will by their names and then later had another child, the child who is not named in your will may be disinherited. It is far safer to refer to your children in your will simply as “my children”. This will include any adopted children.
  • Joint wills: If you have a joint will with your spouse, it is not uncommon to specify “our children” or “children born from our marriage”. If you die and your spouse remarries and has more children, they will need to update their will. If they fail to do so the original joint will be drawn up with you referring to “your children” could very well preclude the children from the second marriage.
  • Spouses: Refrain from referring to your wife or husband in your will as “my spouse”. This could cause complications later on if you divorce and remarry but fail to update your will.
  • Trusts: The age of majority was changed in 2005 from 21 to 18. If you are creating a trust for your children make sure that you stipulate the age when they will be able to access the trust. If you fail to do this, your children can legally access their trust fund as soon as they turn 18.

Regular updates

While careful attention has to be paid to the wording in your will, you can also avoid legal battles after your death by making sure that you update your will regularly. This could be part of an annual financial review once a year or when there is a major change in your life, for example, if you get married, make a large investment or buy an asset such as property.

As with most financial matters, you should consult a professional person for help when you draw up your will. This could be a lawyer or a financial planner, but check that all the possibilities are covered and that there is no room for ambiguity.