Advice Column, Hero Life, Money, Parenting

Everything you need to know about a will

September is National Wills Month, so it’s a good reminder to draw one up if you don’t already have one, or update it if necessary. Financial experts at Hero Life guide you on everything you need to know about a will, by answering some frequently asked questions.

Why is a will so important?

Drawing up a will is not nearly as complex as most people think it is, especially when one considers the importance of having one. Regardless of the value of your assets, having a will in place reduces anxiety for the family you leave behind, and ensures that all your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Your will also protects your children as you can appoint a guardian for them when you die, preventing them from having to go under the care of the state or the Court choosing the guardians to look after them, if both their parents pass.

How does one get started with a will?

Nowadays, drawing up a will can be as easy as downloading basic templates from the internet or going through an online will-drafting process. In more complex cases (such as when there are ex-spouses/partners, children from previous marriages, disabled dependents, a special needs trust or any other specific wishes to be implemented), it is preferable to have a practising attorney or reputable bank draw up the will.

This ensures that the wishes of the testator (the person who has written and executed a last will and testament) are set out correctly, and that they comply with all the legal requirements.

Can the executor be a member of the family?

An executor is the appointed person (or company) in your will who will ensure that your wishes as per your last will and testament, are honoured. If you don’t select an executor, the Court will choose someone. However, one can nominate a member of their family to be an executor on their will. If you nominate a spouse for example, this might not be the best option since they could be under emotional stress on your passing, and therefore not ready to make important financial decisions as an executor.

If you nominate a family member, it’s a good idea to nominate an attorney as co-executor to deal with the legal issues. Also note that if the Court believes that your chosen executor doesn’t have the necessary skills to act on your behalf, they may select someone to assist your appointed executor.

What are typical mistakes people make when drawing up a will?

For parents of children, the biggest mistake would be not to nominate a legal guardian(s) for their children, and therefore leave it to the Court to decide. Other typical mistakes include leaving out specific assets from the will, or forgetting to update it as circumstances change. Most importantly though, the biggest mistake is not having a will at all.

How often or when should a will be updated?

Every time your circumstances change, for example you get divorced, or remarried, or have another child, you should update your will. While you’re at it, also look at your insurance policies and make sure that the nominated beneficiaries of these policies are updated to reflect your wishes.

Who needs a copy of the will?

If your Will was drafted by an attorney or bank, store it with them. If you decide to store the will yourself, it’s a good idea to make up one file of all your important documents, including your will, as this will make it easier for the people you leave behind. Add to this file a list of all your investments, assets, contact details of your executor and any other important documents you think your loved ones will need. Make sure this file, along with your will, are stored safely and that your loved ones and the person you have nominated as your executor are informed of where this file is stored.

If you don’t have a will or an updated will, what’s the worst that can happen?

The worst-case scenario if you pass away without a will, is that your assets and money will be divided as per the provision of the Intestate Succession Act. Although the provisions as per the Act are usually fair in that your assets and money will be transferred to your spouse and children, it doesn’t mean that your assets will go to the person of your choice. Not having a will can also mean that it usually takes longer for your estate to be wound up as the Court need to appoint an executor and a legal guardian (if the other parent is also no longer alive). Unnecessary delays in dealing with your estate could affect your family if they rely on you for an income.

The same holds true if you don’t update your will as your circumstances change – you want to ensure that your preferred people are being looked after. If you neglect to update your will, it could mean that your estranged spouse receives a portion of your assets, which might not have been what you had in mind.For more information on drawing up a Will, getting started on your kids’ university savings fund or getting life insurance, contact Hero Life.

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