Solicitors involved in wills and estates help clients to draft wills and trusts, delegate powers of attorney, appoint enduring guardians, and produce other documents that will assist with the administration of the client’s estate once they have passed away (or during periods when they are incapacitated). To achieve these outcomes, solicitors involved in wills and estates may also help clients to audit their assets, ensure their beneficiaries are properly provided for, and store they wills in a secure location. They may also assist the estate’s executor with distributing assets, and provide counsel and representation in cases where somebody dies intestate (i.e. without a will), or in which an existing will or estate is disputed.
The creation of an Australian will is, in most cases, a fairly straightforward undertaking. Many adults without overly complex assets choose to complete their wills independently using DIY will kits distributed by government agencies. However, as a legal document, the specific wording of a will can have unexpected consequences if its author doesn’t take care to make his or her wishes unambiguous and easily implemented. Therein lies one of the chief satisfactions of working with wills and estates - you can offer your clients the peace of mind that comes from knowing their death won’t cause avoidable stress for loved ones (as can often happen when a person dies intestate).
Wills and estates law is often seen as a ‘soft speciality’ that’s inherently less demanding than other legal fields. In fact, it can be just as complicated as most alternative specialisations, with highly regarded practitioners frequently developing expertise in related subjects, such as taxation, equity, and property law. There is also considerable pressure on wills and estates lawyers to pay close attention to detail - mistakes mightn’t be discovered until after the testator has passed away, at which point correcting errors is a costly, and sometimes impossible, process.
Most lawyers in general practice will be involved in will and estate law at some point, whether they’re advising clients, representing them, or acting as the testator or beneficiary of a private will. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t lawyers who specialise in wills and estates, or who regularly take part in probate proceedings. The experience of graduates who aspire to such positions will depend largely on where they choose to practice.
As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Yes, even during a recession, wills and estates lawyers provide a critical function, helping people to ensure that their assets are posthumously distributed in a responsible and controlled way. For this reason, wills and estates law could be described as the most recession proof of all specialties.