By Christel Botha, fiduciary services manager at Alexander Forbes
Paperwork and thinking about one’s death are both probably equally unpopular, but Covid-19 should serve as a reminder of your mortality.
Your will is one of the most important documents you will ever sign, yet, in spite of this, many people are unprepared when it comes to proper estate planning.
It contains your final wishes for the distribution of your assets and for the care of your loved ones after your death. It provides clear instructions and directions as to how assets that took a lifetime to accumulate – with both financial and sentimental value – need to be disbursed. It is in your family’s and your own best interests to make sure that you have a valid will in place.
Drawing up a simple will or updating your existing one can take less than an hour, and is often free of charge. To complete an application form, you will need the following details: personal details, marriage and divorce details, burial preferences, names and date of birth of any children, details of all local and offshore assets and liabilities, details of your assurance policies and details of how you want your estate distributed.
Details of your assets and liabilities are a guideline to the executor as to what exists at the time of drafting the will. You can also give this to your financial adviser for assessment of any possible gaps in the liquidity of your estate, as this will ensure there is sufficient cash in your estate to cover all debts and costs, bequests and maintenance obligations. It can also assist with proper estate planning.
It is possible to make provision for unborn children. You have the option of adding the child’s name later, should you wish. Your will can contain details of who you wish to appoint as guardian of your minor children in the event of your death. However, this is merely a wish and the person who is named would still have to complete a court application for legal guardianship.
You need to sign your will in the presence of two competent witnesses, who should be over the age of 14. A witness is attesting to your signing the will, they don’t have to know what the contents are as long as they are unbiased. Heirs, legatees or beneficiaries in the will or spouses, executors, trustees and guardians and or spouses may not witness this document. A blind person signing a will or someone making a cross or a fingerprint has to sign in the presence of two competent witnesses, as well as a Commissioner of Oaths whom has to certify the will.
It is important to review your will after getting divorced. If you pass away within three months after the divorce, your former spouse will be excluded from inheriting from your will. However, if you pass away after the three month period (following the divorce) and failed to amend your will, your former spouse may still benefit if so indicated in your will. If the intent is for your former spouse to still inherit from your will despite the dissolution of the marriage, it is best to clearly indicate this in your will.
It is not only after divorce that your will should be updated, but after every life-changing event, such as birth of children, marriage, death of partner or beneficiary, or after the disposal of assets specified in your will. You should review the document on an annual basis.
Codicils, an addition or supplement made at a later date that explains, modifies, or revokes a will or part of one, can often confuse matters in cases where many codicils exist and it has not been properly constructed. One should take great care when drafting a codicil to your Will. The suggestion will be to rather sign a new Will. Importantly, every new will you sign must revoke any previous will.
Once you are satisfied with your will and it has been signed by two witnesses, you will be given an original signed copy to keep and one original signed copy will be kept by the nominated executor for safe custody.