This week, 13 – 17 September, is the week in which lawyers and banks all over South Africa volunteer their services to draw up wills for free. The idea of a will seems a macabre subject, and produces more questions than answers.

Why is it important for ordinary, real people to have a will drawn up? Do we have to have it done by a professional or a bank? What are the important elements of a will? Can’t I just send my bestie a voice note saying, “I hereby bequeath everything I own to you…”?

Having a will drawn up is a good thing, especially for the loved ones who are left behind.

When a person dies without a will, their assets are distributed according to the “Intestate Succession Act” (legalese for distribution without a will).  Although this Act is typically fair and the assets will eventually go to spouses and children, extended family and dependents, there are a few real downsides to dying “Intestate”.

When a person does not leave a will:

  • Their assets would not necessarily go to the people of their choice
  • The State has to appoint an Executor and this can take a very long time and will probably not be a person of the deceased choice
  • The estate of the deceased could be burdened with extra and unnecessary costs
  • Assets might be undervalued when auctioned and leave the beneficiaries with much less of the inheritance than they would have benefited from otherwise
  • Family relationships could be ruined and disagreements may arise because the deceased has not left well-defined instructions (It doesn’t only happen in the movies…)

For the sake of our loved ones, we should do the responsible thing and leave a will.  These are the minimum requirements of a will:

  • A will has to be in writing
  • A will has to revoke all previous wills
  • The appointment of an Executor is imperative
  • Clear and concise instructions as to how you want your assets distributed must be stipulated
  • The will has to be signed by at least 2 witnesses and these may not be beneficiaries of the will
  • The will has to be signed by the maker of the will in the presence of the witnesses

So, even if you missed the “free will week”, you could still sit down with a piece of paper and write down your last will and testament, as a last act of love and care for those left behind.

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