By Essie Bester
Many people erroneously believe that only the affluent need wills. The truth is that it is important to draw up a will, even if you live a simple life. It contains essential information about all the assets you have built up over the years, as well as your final wishes. Above all it gives peace of mind to those who are left behind.
Notwithstanding the fact that legal firms offered to draw up a basic will free of charge during the annual National Wills Week in September, the master of the supreme court estimates that 70% of all working South Africans do not have a will. Do you know what happens if you die without one?
Stella Pickard, founder of the online platform Quickwill, warns: “Dying without a valid will can lead to a long and emotional process of struggling to settle the estate, which often causes hostility among family members.”
Follow the steps below to make sure that you have a valid will:
It is not advisable to draw up your own will, unless you are an expert. Talk to your financial adviser or an accredited broker about your wishes and the heirs and beneficiaries you have in mind.
The following are hints for drawing up a testament:
Plan your will so that it is as uncomplicated as possible.
Make sure your will is practical. Do not regard it as a document that will only take effect when you have reached an advanced age. You may not be so lucky.
Test the contents of your will against the cash available in your estate.
Be practical when you decide how your assets should be divided. It may, for instance, not be advisable to divide your assets in equal parts between your spouse and children unless your total estate consists of cash.
Remember that the status of your marriage, for instance in or out of community of property (with or without accrual), is going to affect how you draw up your will.
Avoid rigid instructions in your will as far as possible. Think carefully when you put limitations on the movement of assets or the transfer of wealth.
Designate a guardian if there are minor children. Make provision for maintenance in terms of an order of divorce. A testamentary trust is recommended for this.
See that you date your will. This will ensure that the last valid will can be identified.
It is essential that there must be sufficient cash in your will when you die. A shortage of cash could mean that assets will have to be sold out of necessity.
It is also advisable not to prescribe funeral arrangements in your will. The will is often read only after the funeral.
To be valid, a will must be in writing. It may be handwritten or typed. An oral will or video recording is not accepted as valid.
Do not procrastinate. The impact of an improperly or absent will on your family must not be underestimated.
The designation of an executor is a big responsibility. A carefully selected person can ensure considerable savings in tax in the process of estate administration. You could designate your spouse, but this is mostly not a good idea as he or she could be emotionally shattered and not ready to make important financial decisions. This could lead to the acceptance of poor advice or service as well as possible exposure to people bent only on self-interest. Normally the master of the supreme court, who also appoints the executor, will insist that a legal expert or trust company be appointed.
- Sign your will and have witnesses sign as well
If you are satisfied with the wording of your will, you can sign the original version and also have it signed by two witnesses older than 14 years. Remember that you have to sign the will in the presence of both witnesses and the witnesses must initial every page and sign in full on the last page.
The following people may not sign as witnesses:
anybody who will get something out of your deceased estate and/or their spouses
the executors, trustees and guardians and/or their spouses
- Make sure that your will is in safekeeping
Your original signed will must preferably be kept in a safe until it is time to settle the estate.
- Review your will regularly
Review your will at least every two years, especially if your personal circumstances have changed ─ e.g. should you marry or get divorced, upon the death of a spouse or an heir, the birth of a child, the acquisition of property or a business, or if you receive an inheritance.