Although it’s a difficult thing to consider, it’s important to make sure you and your family are prepared for the worst. Putting a will in place is a very important step to ensuring that your family are taken care of in the event that you pass away.
Some reasons that people often avoid creating a last will and testament include the following.
- You feel that a will is not urgent or that you have more than enough time so don’t need to do it right now
- You think that your children or family members will be mature and responsible enough to divide everything equally
- You feel that your possessions are not worth enough to need a will.
- You feel that creating a will might cause arguments or rifts amongst family members
While these are valid points and concerns, it really is easier to have a will in place. It can save your family members a lot of stress and struggles, and ensures that you make the winding up of the estate a smooth process. Done correctly, it can also benefit your family for generations to come.
What is the point of a last will and testament?
There are a multitude of reasons for sorting out your last will and testament. Without one, your estate will be automatically distributed according to the law. However, this can often mean that people you would have liked to leave things to might not receive anything, or the opposite; people you would have preferred to leave out of your will for whatever reason may benefit from your passing and receive a significant portion of your estate. You can also leave instructions about where you would like to be buried and by who.
By drawing up your will, you can appoint an executor of your choice. This person is responsible for listing all of your assets, distribute everything as per your instructions in the will, receive any payments such as interest and pay all claims, handle admin related to the estate and so on. If you do not do this, the court will appoint an executor of their choosing. If you have a lot of assets to be distributed, it is best to appoint a lawyer or professional as executor. Otherwise, a friend or family member will be fine.
If you have children is extremely important to know that completing your will allows you to appoint a guardian of your choice for any minor children should both you and your spouse pass away. Without the will, a guardian will be legally appointed and it could well be someone who would not have been your first choice. After all, nobody knows children better than their parents, so you are in the best position to choose a guardian to entrust their future to should anything happen to you.
You can also set out conditions for those who inherit your estate – e.g. your children receiving their inheritance at a certain age, when making a particular purchase (a house, for instance), or in smaller amounts split up over the years. This is generally done in the form of a trust or testament. You can also provide directions for something like your life insurance payout to be sued for only specific purposes – education, buying a house, paying for funeral expenses etc. This stops abuse of the money which is left, so surviving family members or extended family members cannot pressure a beneficiary into whittling the money away slowly but surely. There are no restrictions on the rules and conditions you put into place, provided they are legal.
How do I draw up a will?
Generally, your will should start with the phrase ‘The last will and testament of…”. It is best to involve someone with expert knowledge to do this properly for you, although there are templates that you can find online. Your bank, a lawyer or a company specialising in trusts can easily help you to draw up a will. There are quite a few rules under South African law that must be followed in order for a will to be recognised and accepted by the court. Because of this, it is wise to seek legal assistance to ensure that everything you have set out actually gets followed through on.