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Your will, often a deeply emotional document to prepare, serves as your personalised roadmap detailing how your estate should be distributed after your passing. While contemplating the drawing up of your will may be challenging, or even something you have put on the back burner, especially when you are young and in good health, it is a critical task that should not be neglected.

Your will, much like your life, evolves over time in response to changing priorities and family dynamics. As you navigate through various life stages, it’s essential to adapt your will multiple times to ensure its relevance and effectiveness.

Your first will

Many individuals in their late teens and twenties commonly underestimate the necessity of a will. The misconception often arises from the belief that their assets are too modest to warrant drafting one. However, it’s important to recognise that a will shouldn’t solely govern your present assets; it should encompass your future acquisitions as well. Often, your initial will is sufficient until life milestones such as marriage or parenthood occur.

“Regardless of estate size, having a will and designating an executor eases the estate settlement process and facilitates the fulfilment of sentimental requests and bequests,” emphasises Stacy Rouchos, Managing Director of Bannister Trust (Pty) Ltd, an affiliate of tax specialist firm Hobbs Sinclair.

Personal status transitions

A pivotal moment for revisiting your will is when your personal status changes. Marital unions, divorces or the loss of a spouse can significantly impact your estate’s distribution. The chosen marital regime during marriage affects estate outcomes; for instance, Community of Property marriages result in equal estate division upon one spouse’s demise. Marriage often involves joint asset purchases and shared liabilities, such as mortgages. Couples may opt for a massed will, aligning their wills to cater to each other’s needs if one spouse passes away, or if both perish simultaneously or within a specific timeframe.

Whether a single will or a massed will is chosen, careful consideration should encompass not only asset allocation but also strategies for managing debts. Preventing undue financial burdens on heirs becomes paramount.

Incorporating change

Reviewing your will is also prudent upon introducing new beneficiaries or in case of a beneficiary passing. Especially with children, a will becomes more than an asset distribution tool; it designates guardians for minors. “Updating your will upon each new child’s birth is crucial as ensuring their inclusion as heirs isn’t assumed unless explicitly stipulated,” advises Rouchos.

Contingencies should address how assets designated for minor children are managed until they can assume financial responsibility. Options encompass utilising the Guardian’s Fund administered by the Master of the High Court or establishing a Testamentary Trust, naming minors as beneficiaries.

Anticipating a potential heir’s pre-decease is a sombre consideration. Failure to update your will results in assets bequeathed to the predeceased heir being redirected to any alternate beneficiary stipulated, bypassing the predeceased heir’s estate.

The ever-evolving landscape

South Africa’s family and testamentary laws remain in flux, mirroring individual circumstances. A will’s significance extends beyond death; it influences family livelihoods. “After signing, resist relegating your will to obscurity. Regular revisits, akin to annual dental appointments pre-emptively alleviate strain on heirs during the aftermath of your passing,” advises Rouchos.

A prudent approach entails revisiting your will every three to five years. This periodic reflection allows for drafting new wills, minor amendments, or supplementary codicils in response to evolving circumstances.

In a world marked by change, the constancy of a well-maintained will ensures your legacy aligns with your life’s journey.

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