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Plan For The Future

Many South Africans consider wills to be important only for people with significant assets, but failure to put your last wishes in writing has significant implications for your family. By Lisa Witepski.

“A will is the single most important document you will ever sign,” says Mandy Dix-Peek, head of Old Mutual Wealth Fiduciary Services. Imagine the trauma that awaits family members, already dealing with grief, when the last wishes of a deceased person are unclear. Even if there are no critical issues at stake, such as funds for a child’s education, it is almost inevitable that fights over contested valuables ensue, adding unnecessary strain to an already fraught and emotional situation.

PJ Veldhuizen of Gillian and Veldhuizen, a Cape Town-based law firm, shares Dix-Peek’s view. He says that many South Africans are starting to understand the importance of wills, as evidenced by the number of clients who have sought to update their wills since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s an action he applauds, given that a will should be viewed as a fluid, rather than a static, document. “Our lives change constantly. If you wrote your will before you were married and had children, your wishes will certainly have changed since then,” he says. Veldhuizen advises reviewing your will at least every two years, although an annual review is ideal.

He surmises that people’s reluctance to do this stems from fear of mortality. While that’s understandable, it can put your family in line for some nasty surprises. Fortunately, the ease of the process should remove some of the sting: a simple online search will not only bring up instructions for drafting a will, but also offer the templates to do so.

However, “this is not something you should try at home”, says Veldhuizen. He advises appointing an executor to oversee the winding up of the estate. Many people opt to appoint a family member. The advantage here is not only that you most likely share a relationship built on trust, but they will also be able to choose a lawyer or estates practitioner at an agreed rate through the power of assumption, rather than the statutory fee, which Veldhuizen warns can eat significantly into an estate. Most banks also offer a free service, but will then appoint an executor who is neither known to the family nor negotiable around fees.

Veldhuizen adds that it is vital that your will complies with the stipulations of the Wills Act, if not, it will be deemed invalid. This is why it is best to have your will drawn up by an attorney or estates practitioner who should also be a member of the Fiduciary Institute of South Africa. They will ensure that it is correctly signed, in front of witnesses.

Above all, says Veldhuizen, be very clear on your wishes. He cites the following as an example of what can happen if you fail to do so: “If you have minors and don’t create a trust for them, your funds will be placed in the state-run Guardians’ Trust. This earns approximately four per cent interest every year, which means that the monies will be worth very little by the time the minors come of age. All things considered, a lawyer’s fees are cheap at the price,” Veldhuizen points out.

PJ Veldhuizen

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