The subject of death is not usually something we like to think about, and this is probably one of the reasons why so many people pass away without leaving an up-to-date will. A last will and testament is a legal document that forms the cornerstone of your estate plan. It is there to facilitate the orderly administration of your estate in the event of your death. It is an important document that every one of us should have.
Research has shown that the vast majority of American adults do not have a will, and this should be no different in a country like South Africa. Unfortunately, if you do not have a will, the government will effectively determine who gets what from your estate.
If you die without a will, prescribed rules take over and your estate will be administered in terms of pre-determined legislated guidelines known as intestate succession. Your wishes will not be taken into account and your estate will be divided up amongst your heirs and beneficiaries in terms of the rules of intestate succession. This means that some of your assets or belongings could end up being allocated against your wishes.
If you do have a will, it is vital that it be updated on a regular basis because your circumstances change. If you do not do so, you may end up bequeathing assets to someone who you no longer wish to support. An example could be the case of a divorcee who is in a new long-term relationship inadvertently leaving everything to his or her former spouse. You may also have decided to leave someone or a particular institution a certain amount of money. It would be prudent to re-evaluate that amount every few years because inflation erodes the value of money over time.
A will does not only deal with the distribution of your worldly assets, but in it you can also stipulate specific instructions, such as whether you would like to be buried or cremated, or if you would like your organs to be made available for donation once you have passed on.
It is extremely important that your will is prepared correctly to avoid it being rendered null and void by the Master of the High Court. If you have a complicated estate, you should consult with a qualified professional who specializes in these matters. This will ensure that your will is drafted in such a way as to express your wishes correctly.
Once you have drafted and signed your will, the original should be stored in a safe place where it can be easily accessed by your loved ones in the event of your death. It is also a good idea to leave a copy of your will with someone you can trust.
Losing a loved one is hard enough for the surviving family members. Having to deal with the stress, costs and anguish of a contested estate at such a difficult time is sometime to avoid. A will is there to make that challenging time just that little bit less stressful for all concerned.
Rands and Sense is a monthly column, written by Ross Marriner, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® with PSG Wealth. His Financial Planning Office number is 046 622 2891