National wills week

This all-important aspect of managing your estate should not be ignored.

No matter how old (or young) you are, if you own property or have some form of asset or cash reserves, you should draw up a Will so that there is no confusion as to who inherits what in the unfortunate event of your death.

Many might think that they are too busy to deal with the details of a Will right now, and the temptation is there to postpone it to a later date, but what if that later date is too late?

If you were to die without a valid Will in place, the law decides who gets what, not you. You could be inadvertently condemning your spouse to a life of trying to survive on only a “child’s share” of your estate.  You have no say in who will be appointed executor of your estate, or guardian of your children, or trustee of their trust if they are under age or unable to manage their own affairs.  Your children’s inheritances will sit in the Guardians Fund until they turn 18.  If you aren’t formally married but have a life partner, he or she may end up in a bitter dispute with your family over rights of inheritance. Remember, South Africa does not legally recognise “common law spouses” between heterosexual life partners. There are no advantages to dying intestate, only disadvantages.

There is also a misconception that a Will is not really needed if you’re single or if you do not own any assets. Everyone owns something. Whether a bank account, a small pension fund, a car, or some jewellery, a person should be named as heir so that loved ones are not left with the winding up of your estate. Leave a Will and make the process less stressful for them.

It has to be remembered too, that any Powers of Attorney a spouse might hold lapses upon death and from then on only the executor, after being formally appointed by the Master of the High Court, can deal with your estate.  Any powers you may have given your heirs – for example to draw money to live on from your bank account, or to run your business, or to rent out your house – fall away when you die.

It is possible to purchase pre-drawn Wills from stationery shops but rather make an appointment to see an attorney who specialises in the administration of estates so that you can ensure that your Will is not only valid, but also the most efficient manner of disposal from a tax perspective.

While there is no legal requirement for a professional to draw up your Will, it is best to consult one as he or she will ensure that all the legal formalities are fulfilled and that all your wishes and terms are clear and concise.

Lastly, ensure that your Will is current. Life events do affect the outcome of your Will, such as death, divorce, or financial and business changes, and other factors might influence the outcome – so make a point of reviewing your Will regularly.