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When Last Did You Update Your Will?

National Wills Month is coming up in September – a good reminder for everyone to draw up – or relook – their will.  

No one likes to confront their mortality, but estate planning and drafting a will is a critical part of financial planning, especially for wealthy individuals. It’s surprising how many people (wealthy or otherwise), don’t bother with a will because they assume their loved ones or immediate family members will automatically get an inheritance. But this isn’t always the case, and probate can be a long and expensive process. You’ve worked hard for what you have and built up your fortune, so you need to ensure your assets are preserved and distributed the way you envisioned. The only way to do this is to have a valid will in place. 

What to keep in mind: 

  • The South African Law of Intestacy prescribes what would happen to your assets on your death if you die intestate (without a will in place). Without a will, you have no control over who inherits your wealth, who takes care of your children and your estate ends up with unnecessary expenses and fees that will eat into your fortune.   
  • Given the rise of global citizens and the internet bringing the world closer, diversifying assets across countries has become the norm. But foreign inheritance taxes and probate issues can complicate matters when it comes to a will. If your offshore investments are in a country that follows the same freedom of testation (where a person can leave their assets to whomever they like) as South Africa, there shouldn’t be a problem. However, if the country has forced heirship rules, it means there will be specific guidelines on exactly how your assets are distributed and you will have to work within those restrictions.  
  • If you have complicated assets, it really is in your best interests to have a professional to draw up your will. They can flag any potential issues and have the knowledge and expertise to ensure that your will is valid and meets all the requirements of the law. 
  • It’s not enough to just have a will, you need to update it regularly, taking into account life-changing events like the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, new property that’s not been included in your will or the death of a beneficiary or executor. If your will isn’t updated it could result in people unintentionally inheriting part of your estate, or loved ones not receiving the inheritance you planned.  You should review your will once a year as part of your financial review process. 
  • Having a will in place is particularly necessary if you have complicated family dynamics. Save them the trouble of a potential court battle, expensive legal fees and any unnecessary stress by having all your affairs in order.  
  • You are able to safeguard your minor children by nominating a legal guardian in your will. A surviving parent normally gets sole legal custody if one parent dies, but if both parents are dead,  children need a guardian who will see to their daily needs and care. If no guardian is appointed the court will appoint one for you and this could be someone you might not want raising your children. 
  • You need to nominate an executor. This is the person who is in charge of wrapping up all your affairs – from closing bank accounts to liquidating assets and everything in between. You can have more than one executor but it will cost more. Try to negotiate the executor fees upfront. An executor can charge up to 3.5% on the gross value assets in an estate, as well as a commission of 6% on all income collected after your death.  

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