Category Life Insurance

The importance of leaving a Will: Why you need one and how they work

16 September 2016 Standard Trust Limited

The vast majority of people with families do all they can to ensure that the future of their spouses, children and other loved ones will be financially secure. They work hard, they save, and they invest. Yet many don’t consider the essential importance of writing a Will in this regard, assuming that everything they have earned will automatically be left to the “obvious”, intended beneficiaries when they pass away.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case,” says Kobus van Schalkwyk, Head of Corporate Development for Standard Trust Limited at Standard Bank. “If you pass away without leaving a Will – that is, intestate, – legislation will determine how your assets should be distributed.”

By writing a Will, you ensure that your belongings are divided among your chosen beneficiaries. You will also ensure that the estate administration process is accelerated if you nominate an executor in your will, because, if left to the master of the high court to appoint an executor it could take months, potentially leaving vulnerable family members without critical income.

Besides the advantages of certainty and timeliness, there are a number of other advantages to drafting a Will, as explored below:

  1. Wills limit family disputes: A clear, well-written Will can ensure that family arguments over your estate are avoided. In rare cases, the courts may allow a Will to be contested, but there must be reason to believe that the Will is not valid; for example, if the person who wrote the will was not of sound mind or unduly influenced by a third party. 
  1. Wills clearly state preferences: As well as indicating who will receive what from your estate, a Will can also outline how you would like certain assets to be used. “For instance, you could leave your antique car to your son, stating clearly in your Will that you’d like him to sell the car to pay for his education,” says MrvanSchalkwyk. “However, such indications of preference are not legally binding in any way; yet do serve to make your loved ones aware of your final wishes.” 
  1. Children’s guardians are named in Wills: Unless you name in your Will who you want to take care of your children in the event of your passing, the state will determine who will have guardianship. It may happen that the state chooses somebody you would have chosen yourself, or they may choose a third party that you may not have approved of. 
  1. You can provide for heirs with special needs: You may pass away when your beneficiaries are too young or immature to manage their inheritance. In such cases, a Will can insist on the assets being placed in a trust that can either limit the beneficiaries’ access until they are of a certain age, or distribute the money over a period of time. Such provisions can also be tailored to care for elderly relatives, or those with special needs.

What happens if I die without leaving a will?

There are a number of drawbacks to passing away without making your wishes clear. As mentioned before, your assets will be distributed among your surviving blood relations in terms of legislation, but this may not be what you want.

“For example,” saysMr van Schalkwyk “Your entire estate may go to an estranged relative you barely know, while a well-loved friend or charity gets nothing. And if you don’t have any blood relatives, your assets will be forfeited to the state, without your closest friends or charitable causes benefitted or supported.”

“All of these consequences can be easily avoided by drafting a clear and precise Will,” saysMr van Schalkwyk. “But since a Will is a legal document, it may be worth consulting your  bank, a trust company, attorney or financial advisor to make sure that your spouse, children, relatives and other loved ones are well taken care of in the event of your death, and that you enjoy peace of mind.”

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