A will is about remembering people, not just rehoming money - research

A will can also include items of sentimental value, such as a guitar or book of family recipes.
A will can also include items of sentimental value, such as a guitar or book of family recipes. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The reasons people have a will are as much about passing on the mantle as passing on things of monetary value, new research shows.

According to a study carried out by Public Trust in May, eight out of 10 respondents said their legacy - what they leave behind when they die - mattered to them, with many saying it's linked to their culture or heritage. 

Over three-quarters (78 percent) said creating a legacy is more than just finding a new home for their money: leaving their home, car, KiwiSaver and other assets to someone else. But a third weren't sure what a legacy would be for them. Many felt they weren't on-track to be leaving something behind they could feel proud of.

Public Trust CEO Glenys Talivai said creating a legacy is about passing on things of personal or family value that don't necessarily have a monetary value attached to them. To avoid conflict, it's becoming increasingly important to include them in a will.

"A will is not just about the value of 'things', but also the value to the family...it's often those sentimental items of value that the family become conflicted about," Talivai said.

It could be a great-grandmother's quilt that's handed down through the generations, or who gets the earrings mum wore on her wedding day. In one example, a family was conflicted over who got dad's guitar.   

"A guitar has very little value - he didn't think about putting it in his will - but sentimentally, all the family memories were about Dad singing and playing the guitar," Talivai explained.

"This particular item became the key thing around who was going to treasure that and carry on Dad's legacy."

Another example is how a skill in wood-working would be passed down. The family member concerned had created a collection of wooden furniture including grandchildrens' cribs and toys that were used and passed through the family.   

"It's not just the craft...it's the outcome of that craft and how that's passed down within that family is an example of a legacy," Talivai added.

Families who cook may have a tradition of taking turns cooking and sharing meals. In creating a legacy through their will, a person would consider who carries on that tradition and receives, for example, the book of family recipes.  

"It's almost like passing on the mantle...there's something about 'I choose this member of my family to carry on my legacy'...it comes with a bit of responsibility," Talivai added.

Overall, Public Trust said the research shows people are thinking a lot more about their impact beyond financials.   

"You can do that through a legal document that will bring your legacy to life, beyond a transactional nature," Talivai added.

People could start by asking themselves how they want to be remembered. It could also be useful to draw on an experience of losing someone close, and what helped keep the connection to that person alive.

"It's thinking about what you're passionate about, your hobbies and interests, how that shows up in your day-to-day life and recognising it has an influence on the people around you," Talivai said.

From a monetary perspective, the threshold for making wills is $15,000. If personal assets are $15,000 or less, the estate can be administered under the Administration Act 1969, without applying to the High Court for probate.

People can make a will through an estate services provider such as Public Trust or Perpetual Guardian, or a lawyer. For a basic online will, costs start from around $100 - or from $300 through a lawyer.

Sharon Chandra, partner at legal firm Turner Hopkins said although the legal requirements for a will are straightforward, people may need legal advice around future claims challenging whether the will is valid.  

Examples are blended families, Trusts and other situations where there are "competing interests".

"[In these situations], you want to make sure your will is sufficiently iron-clad to prevent that as it's not only the time, it's the cost to your estate," Chandra added.

As fees can be exorbitant, people are urged to compare not just the upfront cost of making a will, but also fees charged to manage the estate when someone dies.

Public Trust 2020 research indicates less than half (48 percent) of adult Kiwis have a will in-place. The survey collated responses from 657 New Zealanders over May, 2021.