Contemplating Wills, George Michael and what we leave behind.
A couple of years ago at Christmas, about the time when his jingles were filling the stores, the late George Michael filled our newsfeeds as his loved ones scrapped and battled over his Last Will and Testament as ever more properties, possessions and loved ones came out of the woodwork.
It serves as a stark reminder of something that many ordinary people may have in common with George Michael – the unromantic logistical struggles that are left when someone close to us passes on.
September marks National Wills Week and it also fittingly marks Heritage Day. While most people don’t have a mammoth estate to grapple with like George Michael’s nearest and dearest, many people are caught off guard by things loved ones haven’t sorted out before they pass away, leading to administrative trials that can seriously get in the way of the grieving process.
It’s unfortunately something that most people don’t realise until it’s too late to do anything about – the practical reasons to have a Will are worlds away from the fabulous tales of the rich and famous, it’s rather about ensuring that the people who mean the most to you are taken care of after their lives have been turned upside down by your passing.
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Sometimes however we need real examples of people to bring reality home, so take these stories from the celebs to inspire you: Stieg Larsson, the author of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, died intestate and thus the Swedish court divided up his estate. What happened? His long-term partner of many years, who wasn’t legally his wife when he died, was left with no money at all. Ouch. And what about the famous cases of Michael Jackson and Prince? In both cases, siblings of the dead stars went to court claiming there was no Will. In MJ’s case, a Will was found. In Prince’s case, the legal in-fighting and scrapping is expected to continue for years before anyone sees a penny.
That may be fine for the many Princelings, but you don’t want that to happen in the your world where some simple administration can prevent your family tearing themselves apart dividing the spoils. At the end of the day, drawing up a will is inexpensive and will effectively deal with everything that you have worked so hard to build up in your lifetime. Because the court isn’t likely to prioritise helping a boyfriend pay the rent after you’re gone, or to provide for the kids from your first marriage to go to university, you must ensure that yourself. And the best way is drafting a Last Will and Testament with a professional.
“The first thing you hear when someone has passed away is – I hope that they have everything in place and that the family will be ok – the real question is, have you?” says Craig Baker, CEO at MiWayLife
Things that Will make life easier:
1. Check that there is a Will
Experts at FISA estimate that 86 percent or more of South Africans don’t have a Will. This means that they die ‘intestate’ – a fancy way of saying that the entire might of South African legal bureaucracy is welcomed into your Will. This means that the person’s wishes are ignored and the law lays down a rigid process which can take a lot of time and, in the interim, everything in the estate is frozen. This means no access to valuable funds to help with an often costly funeral and with life, months or even years after the person is gone. Not ideal.
2. Check who the executor of your parents’ estate is.
Oftentimes, people create a Will and then forget about it completely, sometimes for decades. It sounds terrible to say, but when people get older there is a risk of the executor of your folks’ estates passing on or retiring before they do.
A second problem is if your parents have made you the executor of their estate. This could directly jeopardise your ability to inherit as it could pose a conflict of interest and what do you know about winding-up an estate anyway? In almost every instance, it’s safer and cheaper in the long run to use a professional as the executor of your estate.
So, before your ‘Father Figure’ or anyone else you love gets any older, have that conversation. Making sure you know whether their affairs are in order and will give you ‘Freedom’. Do it now. Before they go go.