Dying is not a favourite topic of discussion but unless someone invents a cure for death, we need to accept that it’s going to happen at some point. As we go through life we collect possessions and build wealth that will need to be distributed when we are no longer around. To make sure this happens the way we want it to, we have to write a clear and legal will. If we don’t, we will have no say on where our assets go and who will take care of our loved ones. According to The Fiduciary Institute of South Africa (FISA) a non-profit organisation that represents practitioners in the fiduciary industry, only a very small percentage of the population has a valid will.
Jacinta Bassuday, Legal Manager at Standard Trust Limited says, “This is an alarming statistic because it means that the majority of families could be compromised when a family member dies. Dying “intestate” or without a will means that the state will decide where the assets of the deceased goes. In addition, the winding up of the estate takes much longer than if a will had been in place”.
If you die intestate the following rules apply.
Ms. Bassuday says, “This should be strong motivation for individuals to ensure that they have a will in place. Another important consideration is to ensure that your will is in fact valid. Scribbling your wishes on a piece of paper is not good enough. Drawing up a will needs careful consideration and most times, it will require the help of a professional to ensure its validity”.
Writing a will is just the beginning of the process, you also need to make sure your important documents are in a place where people can find them. “In addition to keeping documents in an orderly manner, everyone should make a list of their accounts, assets, investments, important contact people and obligations so it is easier for the executor to wind up an estate”.
Ms Bassuday says, “One of the biggest reasons estates take so long to wind up is that the job of tracking down information and documents can take many months and sometimes years, if the deceased persons affairs are not organised. By taking the time to file and organise your documents, you will make the task of the executor much easier but more importantly, your estate will be wound up much quicker; giving your family access to funds.”
“Many people are not aware of the fact that the deceased persons assets get ‘frozen’ until the estate is wound up and this could potentially cut family members off from income and resources, especially if the deceased was the main breadwinner,” continues Ms. Bassuday.
It may take you an entire day to get your documents in order but once done, maintaining them is relatively easy. The process will also help you to identify gaps in your investment and insurance portfolio and give you a perspective of your financial life that you may not have had before. Taking the time to get your documents in order also gives you the added bonus of peace of mind.