Off The Beaten Track

Don’t put off drawing up your will

We know that death is inevitable, but we distance ourselves from our own mortality to the extent that we put off things like drawing up a will because “we can do it later”.

But what if later never comes?

You do not need to have millions in assets and investments to have a will. Feuds over things as trivial as cutlery prove that it’s not always about the money.

If you are employed or run your own business; are part of a pension fund; have some furniture, a car or any other investments, and your assets are valued at R125,000 or more, you should probably get a will drawn up. It is an integral part of your financial planning.

The importance of a will can never be overstated, and simply plonking everything onto a form you found online should not be the way you go about drawing one up, especially if you’re married or have children. What may seem simple and straightforward while you’re alive, isn’t when you’re no longer around.

The first thing you want to do when you draw up your will is consult a professional. You can approach a lawyer who specialises in estate planning, a trust company, your financial planner or your bank for assistance.

The person who helps you draw up the will should not be a beneficiary of it, and neither should those people who sign as witnesses, otherwise they will be disqualified from receiving anything left to them in the will.

The administrative aspect of drawing up a will may seem like a lot to take in, but getting professional assistance will help you navigate the process more easily. You will be able to ask questions, and an independent eye will be able to spot what you may have left out.

Your will must correspond with all your legal and financial documents. For example, beneficiaries nominated to receive your pension fund (and the percentages apportioned to each of them) should correspond with what’s in your will.

So any money or property you leave behind is distributed to those who survive you and you have no control over who is appointed as executor and administrator of your estate.

You have to appoint an executor to handle your affairs after your death. An executor is responsible for managing the assets of the deceased, including payments made to the estate, such as investment income; ensuring that creditors’ claims are paid from the estate, and filing and paying income and estate taxes. They are also responsible for funeral costs and making sure that the estate is distributed according to the instructions set out in the will.

The executor should be aware that they have been given this responsibility and must be kept in the loop whenever you make big changes to your will.

If you have young children, you should set up a trust and appoint a trustee to oversee the inheritance until the minors have reached a certain age and receive whatever you have left them.

Destroy copies of your old will when you write a new one, and make the latest copies (marked “Copy”) available to your bank or financial planner and executor. Keep the original in a safe place.

Should you die without a will, your estate is distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act. So any money or property you leave behind is distributed to those who survive you and you have no control over who is appointed as executor and administrator of your estate.

This can then cause tension and family rifts. Although the government will try to distribute your estate fairly, family dynamics play a big role here.

The master of the High Court appoints a curator to oversee any property or assets that go to minors. What they inherit will go to what’s known as a Guardian’s Fund, which holds any funds for youngsters, those incapable of handling their own affairs or untraceable heirs.

Don’t put too many conditions in your will – if your inheritors find they have to try to make changes to it, it will cost a lot in legal fees.

This article first appeared in Sunday Times – Business Times. Click here for the original article.

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