When did you last re-visit your Will?

What? You don't even have one? Shame on you. You battle all through your life trying to build up a bit of wealth and then you don't even exercise your right to say what will happen to it when you die. That's a bit like not bothering to vote in our new democracy.

So what happens if you die without a will (known as dying intestate). Then your assets will be distributed according to a rather complicated formula which we all learned at university then promptly forgot. It's called "per stirpes". From what (little) I remember it works like this - Spouse gets two portions and one portion goes to each of the kids. So if you die with two offspring then your estate gets divided into four, a half to your spouse and a quarter to each of your children. That's already a disaster if your children are minors, because when a minor inherits, the inheritance is turned into cash which then goes into the Guardian's Fund which is administered by the office of the Master of the High Court - they're the guys who have a letterbox in their front door with a shredder behind it to dispose of incoming mail! Actually I'm being unkind, that only applies to their Pretoria office, Jo'burg are (sorry, used to be) pretty good.

Now if you don't have a spouse or children, then your assets get distributed equally amongst the next level of relations - brothers, sisters, parents and grandchildren and if you don't have any of them then siblings children, grandparents and great grandchildren. That's when someone gets an email out of the blue advising them that some distant relative (you) whom they never heard of has passed away leaving them a fortune (or is it just another email scam?).

So write a will! And if you did write one, take another look at it. Or if it was one of those free-bees from a bank or insurance company, tear it up! (but only after writing a new one). Why should you tear it up, because the only reason they gave it to you for nothing is that they are appointed executors and they want the fees. I've been involved with several of them on behalf of clients. They make the survivor do all the work and are totally impersonal in their dealings with the beneficiaries of the estate.

Now if you can't afford to pay for a decent will, at least write one of your own. Simply sit down with a blank piece of paper and write (or type) out what you want to happen when you die. Plain language is fine. "My name is Derek Springett and my ID is 7306275094081 (I wish!). I live at 7 Joseph Street, Parkmore, Johannesburg. In the event of my death I would like all of my assets to go to my wife, Helen and if she and I die together, then equally to my children (if any of them are minors this simple approach doesn't work and you'll have to call me for a quote). I would like a director of Harbour and Associates Inc to be my executor. I wish to be cremated" Date it and sign each page in front of two witnesses (not anyone referred to in the will), get them to do the same  and send the original to the executor. Then stay alive as long as you can or at least until you can afford to get us to write you a new Will!

That's by no means perfect but it will stand up in court and is far better than nothing. If you can afford about R3 000 (or R8 000 if you don't have a trust and do have minor children), we'll do a proper job for you (and your spouse, all in the same price).

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South African Institute of Chartered Accountants. Designation CA(SA)  Internationally Accredited Financial MediatorsIndependent Regulatory Board for Auditors. Designation RA<Engineering Council of South Africa. Designation Pr(Eng) Member of MENSA, the High IQ Society




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