The day you pass on, there is only one legal document that can talk for you when you no longer can. Your Last Will & Testament is that mouthpiece. If you are like the rest of us, and you’ve spent a lifetime working to pay for things, the day you pass away you’ll want to make sure your wishes are known. Without leaving very specific written instructions behind, everything is left up in the air, and because you will no longer be around to straighten things out, dying without a Will is highly problematic. Not for you, but for everyone else left behind!
It’s estimated that approximately 70% of South Africans don’t have a Will in place!
That’s a very scary statistic, and you can’t help but wonder why only 30% of South Africans have taken the time to sort out their final affairs with a document that could literally be as simple as a one-pager.
Three reasons spring to mind:
- Most South Africans don’t know what a Will is
- They believe they don’t have anything worth leaving to family or friends, so why bother?
- Or they have the mindset “I’m no longer around, so let them sort it out themselves”.
If you don’t know what a Will is, or you believe you don’t have anything worth leaving, then read on: This blog post is just for you.
What happens if you pass away without a Last Will and Testament?
Let’s straighten this out quickly in case you have any misconceptions.
If you pass away without having a valid Will in place, you die “Intestate”. Basically, that means that nobody has any legal instruction to work with, so the Government needs to step in. The Intestate Succession Act, 1987 is the legal framework that deals with how the division of assets are handled when you pass away (based on a formula).
The Master of the High court is going to step in (and who knows how long that could take) and in terms of Intestate law, beneficiaries standing to inherit something are listed below in order of preference:
- The spouse of the deceased
- The descendants of the deceased (that would be your children);
- The parents of the deceased (only if the deceased died without a surviving spouse or descendants)
- The siblings of the deceased (only if one or both parents are predeceased)
- When the deceased left only spouses and no descendants, the wives will inherit the Estate in equal shares.
- When the deceased left spouses and descendants, the spouses and descendants will inherit the Estate in equal shares, but
- Each wife should inherit at least R 250 000
- When the Estate is not large enough to allow each wife to inherit R250 000, the spouses will inherit the Estate in equal shares while the descendants will not receive anything.
You can see how messy things can get. The Master of the High Court is always going to have your surviving spouse and children in mind first when looking to distribute your assets when you pass on.
That’s fine if life was completely uncomplicated.
But what if your children are minors? What if you are divorced and you wanted your Estate to go to your new partner?
Now that you understand why you need a Will and what happens if you die without a Will in place, let’s tackle the following notion.
“I don’t need a Will because I have nothing of value to leave behind”
That is a fair statement if your Will only dealt with the distribution of your assets when you pass on. It doesn’t! Most people who might use this argument don’t realize that having a Will in place also handles several other final wishes that have very little to do with your things.
You might not have much to your name, but what about your children?
Have you given any thought to which family member or friend you would like to nominate as their legal guardians? When you draft a Will, you can nominate legal guardians if your kids are minors.
What about being cremated or buried?
Some of us couldn’t be bothered what transpires after we pass away, but for others, knowing our ashes have been spread at our favourite bush vacation spot is a very important thing. Your Will can make provision for your final wishes in respect of your mortal remains. If that is important to you, then make sure you get your wishes down on paper.
Considered organ donation?
It’s estimated that at any given time there are as many as 4300 people in South Africa waiting for organ donations.
Your Will can once again make provision for final wishes like this. If your demise could extend someone else’s life, why not consider it and have your Will enforce it.
Not all of us have fancy houses, big cars and bank accounts full of money. But there are some of us who have items of sentimental value that we’d like to leave to specific people. It could be a watch your great grandfather left you and you want your eldest son to inherit it. Perhaps it’s a broach your great grandmother left you and you want your eldest daughter to inherit the stunning piece of jewellery.
On closer inspection, you will find that all of us have at least a few items that mean something to us. When we pass away, we want those items handed down to the next generation, so a small piece of our family legacy remains intact.
Everybody needs a Last Will and Testament. It doesn’t matter how insignificant you might think it is when you pass away someone will be trying to sort out your affairs and it only seems fair that you take the time to leave some basic instructions.
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Until next time.
The Wise About Life Team