The Importance of having a Valid Will
Sadly, if the news headlines of the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that death is inevitable and we’re never too young to plan for it. Death is never a nice thing to think about, but having a valid will in place can give you peace of mind knowing that when you die, your loved ones will be financially looked after, and your wishes carried out.
A will is a legal document that specifies how you want your estate, that is your possessions, money, and property, to be divided and distributed to whom after you die
Apart from the financial aspects, details of property, and other assets, your will would typically include other instructions to those tasked with winding up your affairs, such as:
- Your beneficiaries – who you want to receive your assets when you die, including any charities
- What happens if any beneficiaries die before you?
- Care plans for children under 18, as well as dependants with disabilities and plans for your pets
- Appointment of the executor – the person/s who you want to carry out your wishes as expressed in your will
- What will happen to your digital assets?
Dying without a legally valid will in place is known as dying “intestate” and the law decides how your estate will be divided up
If you don’t have a valid will then you don’t have a say in who receives your property and other assets after your death. This means that someone you may never have wished to inherit might do so, while those who you genuinely care for and would want to benefit might be left with no legal entitlement to your estate or assets.
A case in point is a partner you are not legally married to.
Remember: There is no such thing as a common-law spouse in the eyes of the law of intestate succession
No matter how long you have been together, South African laws of intestate succession do not confer any legal status on cohabitating partners, and therefore, they are not recognised as beneficiaries of an estate. This could result in the surviving partner potentially losing their home or not having enough money to raise children. The only way to safeguard against this is to ensure that both partners have a valid will in place which specifically names the other partner as a beneficiary.
A letter of wishes
Any preferences regarding the funeral should rather be written in a separate document as the will is often only read after the funeral. And the more you decide upon the better. Providing your requests are not unreasonable your family will thank you for it because if you don’t think of it, someone else will have to. At a time of already heightened emotional stress, the last thing you want is for your family and friends to be agonising over, or worse still, arguing over what you would have wanted. Your guidelines for bringing up children, notes for trustees and where to find specific items can also be included here.
The importance of ensuring that your will is drawn up within the context of a comprehensive estate plan cannot be overemphasised
There are quite a number of statutory costs and other expenses involved in the winding up of an estate. It is therefore essential that your estate financial plan provides liquidity for such costs so as to avoid forced sales of estate assets, at a fraction of their true value, to cover costs. A good estate plan not only protects your estate and family after you die but should also minimise the amount of estate duty payable.