No-one, except perhaps for your lawyer and financial adviser, likes to think about matters like estate planning, yet your will is likely to be the most important document you will ever sign.
According to the Master of the High Court, more than 70% of working South Africans do not have this vital document.
“Thinking about your death is unpleasant, it is not like saving for a new car or putting money away for retirement,” said Jenny Gordon, Senior Legal Adviser at Alexander Forbes.
Should you die without a will, the law will decide who gets your assets, without any regard to your wishes or your family’s needs.
Here are five simple steps which Gordon believes are essential when it comes to wills:
- Draw up a will
You don’t need to hire a lawyer to draw up a will. Most banks, trust companies or financial advisers will do so at a small fee or none at all if they are appointed as executor.
However, the way a will is signed is important. It should be signed in the presence of two witnesses and you must sign on each page and at the end of the will.
- Nominating an executor
When you draw up a will, you can nominate a person or company you trust as executor. Failing this, you could nominate a spouse and a company as co-executors. In terms of the law in South Africa, a family member or friend can be appointed as executor of your estate. However, the Master of the High Court will usually require that an executor, who does not have the necessary qualification, must be assisted by a professional agent such as an Attorney, Auditor, Advocate or a Trust Company during the administration process.
- Choosing your heirs.
If you die without a will your assets will be distributed in terms of the Intestate Succession Act, and your closest living relatives will inherit from you. However, your assets may not be distributed in the manner you intended.
- Choosing a guardian for your minor children.
If you are sole guardian, or both parents pass away simultaneously, you can appoint another person who has your minor children’s interests at heart to be the guardian in your will.
- Safekeeping of your will.
While institutions such as banks or financial service providers offer a safe-keeping service for a small fee, you’re not obliged to use them. The most important element is that your original will is stored in a safe place and be easily accessible by your loved ones. It is also advisable to tell your loved ones that you have signed a will and let them know where the original is stored, possibly sharing a scanned copy with those you trust. You can also store scanned copies in your computer – while copies of wills are not generally valid, they have been known to be accepted on very good cause shown.