This week is National Wills Week, which once again shines the spotlight on the fact that every year tens of thousands of South Africans die without a valid will, this having devastating effects on their families and loved ones.
Melody Stander, a training specialist at life insurer FMI, says it is unnecessary for those left behind to suffer, because a will gives you the opportunity to ensure your loved ones are looked after once you’ve passed, and helps prevent undignified disputes over the assets that you leave behind.
“Nobody likes to talk about death, but it’s a reality that we cannot ignore, especially during this time of a pandemic. Having a valid will in place means your loved ones have so much less stress to deal with after you’re gone,” said Stander.
If you die without a valid will, you are deemed to have died intestate. This means that you have no say over who inherits your worldly possessions. Instead, your assets and personal belongings will be divided based on the rules of intestate succession, which is dictated by the government.
Even if there is a valid will, if you are married in community of property, the joint estate will be frozen when one spouse dies. This means the surviving spouse’s bank accounts and assets will also be frozen, along with their deceased spouse’s. Many people are also not aware that customary marriages are legally regarded as being married in community of property, says Stander.
“Most South Africans who are married in community of property don’t realise the impact it will have on their family if a joint estate is frozen. During this time, the surviving dependents still need to pay bills, pay for studies, and put food on the table. How do they do that if their access to funds have been cut off?” says Stander.
Once you have a will in place, a good next step in estate planning is to have life insurance in place. Many people die without having enough cash in their estate to pay for estate duty, debts and executor’s fees. In some cases, assets might need to be sold to settle these debts, leaving surviving dependents without a home or an income.
“Everybody wants to leave a legacy when they’re gone. There are few better ways of doing that than ensuring the future security of your family – and by getting a will, and looking after their financial needs, you will be doing exactly that.”