Your Will forms an important cornerstone of your Estate Plan, but your Will is not your Estate Plan. Your Will is your final instructions on how your assets should be divided when you pass. There are, however, some common myths around Wills.
The first myth, what happens if you die without a Will?
When you die without a Will, your assets will not go to the state. They will be distributed in terms of your family bloodlines in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act. If you are married and have children, they are the first to inherit. Where you do not have a spouse or children, your parents are then considered, and if they are no longer alive, it follows to your brothers and sisters etc. People who were financially dependent on you also have a right against your estate. It is complicated and may cause fighting amongst your family, but the worst part is that an Executor, who is appointed by the government, will administer and divide your assets.
The second myth – You need to have more than a certain amount of assets to have a Will.
This is simply not true as our legislation allows everyone, even if you just own your clothes, to have a Will. Your Will must however comply with certain minimum standards as set out in the Wills Act.
This includes that your Will must be in writing and every page must be signed by you. Your Will also needs to be dated and witnessed by two competent witnesses. A competent witness is anyone over the age of 14 who is of sound mind and who does not inherit in terms of your Will. Please bear in mind that should your Will be disputed, the witnesses may be called to testify in a court of law.
The third myth – The executor decides what happens to your assets.
The Executor’s role is to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. The Executor must report to the Master of the High Court. When you pass away, the executor will be appointed by the Master. A letter of Authority will be issued, and the Executor will take control of your assets for the purpose of distributing them in terms of your Will. Once all your assets have been distributed, the Executor needs to submit a liquidation and distribution account to the Master.
It is important that you keep an originally signed Will in a secure place and more importantly let your family know where it is kept. Make sure your Will is current. You can change your Will as often as you want – you do however need to make sure that is properly signed and dated.
If you need advice on drafting your Will, or you require assistance with your estate plan, use the Contact Us button to speak to us for more information.