With a will, there’s some sense of certainty and security
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By Kutlwano Mogatusi
WITH this week, September 13 to 17, recognised as National Wills Week in South Africa, it is the perfect time to knuckle down and get your house in order.
A will, also known as a “last will and testament”, is a legal document that ensures that the final wishes relating to the disposal of a person’s assets at the time of death are followed. This privilege is called “freedom of testation”.
Many consumers know the importance of the document, yet a high percentage of working South Africans do not have a will in place, and do not understand the process of arranging a will, or the importance and legal implications of not having one.
During National Wills Week, selected legal firms across the country offer a service to South Africans to have a basic will drafted free of charge. If you don’t have a will, or it hasn’t been updated for a while, now is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the importance of having a will and what the legal document means for you and your chosen beneficiaries.
According to the Law Society of South Africa, in the unfortunate circumstance that you die without leaving a valid will, your assets will be distributed according to the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act. While the provisions of the Act are generally fair and ensure that your possessions are transferred to your spouse and children, and to others who were dependent on you for financial support, other problems may arise if you die without leaving a will.
- Your assets may not be left to the person/s of your choice.
- It can take time for an executor to be appointed, and it could be somebody you may not have chosen yourself.
- Extra and unnecessary costs may be incurred.
- There could be unhappiness or conflict among family members due to no clear instructions on how to distribute your assets.
Ensuring that you have a will in place and it is updated regularly, particularly when your personal circumstances change, is essential. You should list all your assets, including your vintage car collection or your workhorse bakkie, and nominate who should benefit from these assets.
When drafting your will, you should keep it simple and ensure that you name your beneficiary/ies and what each will receive (in the event of more than one beneficiary). The identity numbers of the beneficiaries should be included too. If you are married, your marriage contract should also impact how you draft your will, and ensure that you nominate a responsible guardian for your minor children or dependants, if applicable.
Your will is not considered valid unless it is signed by you, and it is important to date the will to ensure that the last valid will document is easily identified.
Remember to review and update your will regularly, especially if there has been a major change in your life or in the legislation, and make sure the will document is safely stored and easily accessible to the relevant parties.
The passing of a loved one, unfortunately, does not mean their debt dies too. In the event of secured debt, whether it’s for a vehicle, property or even a retail store account balance, one of their assets may need to be liquidated to pay off and settle all outstanding debts.
If a debt insurance policy is not in place, whomever the deceased has nominated as the beneficiary to the asset in question, could end up being legally liable for any outstanding balance linked to that asset.
All these factors reinforce the importance and necessity of having an updated and valid will that accurately and securely reflects one’s final wishes. This ensures that the loss of a loved one is not further compounded by unnecessary trauma and uncertainty if the person has died without a will.
Kutlwano Mogatusi is WesBank’s communication specialist.
*For more on wills and estates, read the September 2021 issue of our information-packed IOL MONEY monthly digital magazine.