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Your will, often a very emotional document to prepare, is your roadmap specifically showing how you want your estate to be distributed after you die.  It is not surprising that many people try not to think about the contents of their wills or fail to carry out proper estate planning when they are young and healthy but it is necessary and your will should be adapted several times as you grow older and as your priorities and family situations change.

Your first will

Many young people in their late teens and their twenties think that a will is unnecessary as they believe that their assets are not worth the effort of drafting one. However, an important consideration to take into account is that a will should not govern just what assets you own at the time of drafting it but your future assets as well.  Most often your first will, will suffice until such time that you have a spouse or a child and so, can last you for many years.  “No matter how small the estate, having a will and a nominated executor will make winding up your estate far easier and also allow for sentimental items and funeral requests and bequeaths to be honoured,” explains Stacy Rouchos,  Trust and Estates Officer at Bannister Trust, an associate company of tax specialist firm, Hobbs Sinclair.

Change in personal status

Usually, the first time that an initial will needs to be amended is when your personal status changes.  This can happen when you get married, divorced or become widowed. Depending on the marital regime that you entered when you were married will affect your estate when you die, for example, marriage in Community of Property means that your joint estate is equally divided upon death of one of the spouses.

Furthermore, once you marry many household assets are jointly purchased and large debts such as bonds taken on jointly.  A couple might decide to have a ‘Massed will’ meaning that their wills are the same and that they firstly make provision for each other should one spouse die, and an eventuality where both spouses were to die simultaneously or within 60 days of each other.

Whether you decide on an individual will or a Massed will it is important to think about not only how your assets are to be distributed but also how your debt and liabilities can be financed in order not to leave a financial burden on your heirs.

Addition or death of beneficiaries

A will should also generally be looked at and reviewed if there is a new beneficiary to be added, or if a beneficiary were to die. If you have children, it becomes increasingly important to have a will that not only governs your assets but also appoints guardians for your minor children.   “It is also important to update your will at the birth of each subsequent child as it is not automatically assumed that any future children will be featured as heirs to your estate, unless your will is specifically written to include that eventuality,” adds Rouchos.

Contingencies should also be stipulated as to what happens to assets bequeathed to minor children before they are ready for that financial responsibility.  Several options include using the Guardian’s Fund managed by the Master of the High Court or to create a Testamentary Trust and have your minor children listed as the beneficiaries.

It is also a sad reality that one of your heirs may predecease you.  In this instance, if you have not updated your will your assets will instead be bequeathed to any substituted heir you have listed in your will and will not be bestowed to that predeceased heir’s estate.

South Africa’s family law and testamentary law is constantly changing, along with your own personal circumstances so having a will is vitally important as not only does it drastically affect your estate after death but also the livelihoods of your family.  “And once signed, do not toss it into a drawer and never look at it again,” cautions Rouchos.  “Much like having a yearly dentist appointment or a routine doctor’s visit a bit of planning in advance can save your heirs and loved ones much anguish at the time of your death.” she adds.

It is recommended that you reread your will every three to five years to see whether or not a new will needs to be drafted,  minor amendments made or whether a codicil can be drafted to supplement it.

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