By ROSS MARRINER
September is recognised in the financial planning industry as ‘wills month’. The subject of death is not top-of-mind for most people, so 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 most South African adults do not have a will. Unfortunately, where there is no valid will, the government will effectively determine who gets what from your estate.
If you die without a valid 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 considered, and your estate will be divided amongst your heirs and beneficiaries in terms of the rules of intestate succession. This means some of your assets or belongings could be allocated to beneficiaries against your wishes.
If you do have a will, it is vital that you review it regularly to ensure that it is up-to-date because your circumstances may have changed. If you do not do so, you may bequeath assets to someone who you no longer wish to support. 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 deals not only with the distribution of your worldly assets but 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.
Your will must be 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 a qualified professional who specialises in these matters to 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 your loved ones can easily access it in the event of your death. It is also a good idea to leave a copy of your will with someone you 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 something to avoid. A will is there to make a challenging time 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