Estate planning involves the efficient distribution of your assets when you die and helps to prevent potential liabilities and problems, says Andrew Auld, a certified wealth manager at Alexander Forbes Financial Planning Consultants.

“It is a term for a broad range of matters, from a will, a living will, estate duty, capital gains tax, trusts for minors, maintenance or accrual claims and provision for dependants, to distributing benefits after a second marriage and final expenses,” Auld says.

Estate planning is often postponed until later in life, but the first step, the drafting of your first will, should be taken as soon as you acquire any assets.

Auld says the estate planning process continues as your circumstances change, such as getting married and having children. “It is advisable to consult a professional with experience in estate planning to consider the impact of your wishes on those who will inherit,” he says.

Planning ahead empowers those who take care of your affairs after your death to carry out your wishes accurately, Auld says.

“Having been involved for more than 20 years in assisting clients with estate planning, I have learnt never to understate the importance of the potential conflict points that can arise among the family left behind if planning is not done thoroughly,” he says. Auld believes this has become even more relevant with the increase in second marriages.

Planning is also required to deal with tax. “Smart planning can help to reduce the impact of taxes, as well as ensure that there is adequate cash available to settle taxes and other costs at death,” he says.

As far as costs are concerned, there is often no specific fee charged for this service, because it forms part of the holistic financial planning approach rendered by financial services providers.

“Those with large estates who have more complex needs will require more technical competencies. Good advice comes at a cost, and fees are in line with those charged by professionals such as attorneys, accountants, trust companies and financial planning businesses.”

Auld cautions that the costs of improper estate planning can be immeasurable: “broken family relationships, financial hardship, excessive taxes, and negative impacts on family businesses and partnerships, to name a few.”

“I have found that the comfort and peace of mind brought to a client when I walk them through the process of what happens in the event of their husband or wife’s death is helped by the knowledge that cash flow and access to capital are all provided for,” Auld says.