Death and the distribution of our earthly possessions thereafter are not topics of a happy family conversation. As grim a thought as that may be, it is an act of love to leave behind a well-crafted will. Not only is it the responsible thing to do, it also ensures that your final wishes will be carried out after your death.
National Wills Week takes place from September 11 to September 15 this year and Ecsponent Financial Services – along with a number of other firms participating in the initiative – will be facilitating the drafting of free basic wills as part of a national effort to encourage everyone to draft this important document.
In support of this initiative, Ecsponent Financial Services Country Manager, Floris Slabbert, provided a few tips regarding the drafting of wills that will help to ensure a smooth process for your family in what is otherwise a very difficult time.
Use a professional
While it is possible to draw up your own will, there are set guidelines that must be followed for the will to be recognised as a legitimate document. Slabbert explains that once your estate reaches a certain size it has to be executed by a professional. “As soon as your estate exceeds R250 000 (effective from 24 November 2015), it has to be administered by a qualified and authorised executor. The executor is obligated to provide the court with a proper Loan and Distribution account, and authorises the executor’s fee,” Slabbert says.
Much like other aspects of your financial planning, taking care of your will should be a priority and not an afterthought. “We recommend calling upon experts to perform your estate planning and draft your will. It is an essential part of holistic financial planning,” explains Slabbert.
Negotiate your executors’ fee
Responsible planning can result in significant cost savings, which are to the benefit of your beneficiaries. “Many assume, for instance, that 3.5% excluding VAT is a fixed tariff in respect of the executorship fee but it is fully negotiable.
“One of the ways in which we help our clients save is by pre-negotiating this fee to a lower percentage. If the fee is reduced from 3.5% to say 2.8% (excluding VAT), our client’s estate saves R 7000 per million rand.”
Make sure the will is witnessed properly
Not everyone is eligible to sign as witness of your last will and testament. Slabbert says that according to law, a person as young as 14-years old qualifies to sign as a witness, provided that he or she is not a beneficiary of the estate.
It is best however to draw on the knowledge of a specialist in this area as a seemingly small error could result in voiding the document, meaning that your wishes may not be fulfilled as you had hoped.
Keep the original will safe
“We encourage everyone to keep their wills in a safe place. Make sure someone in the family has a copy but bear in mind that an original must be submitted to the Master of the Court to appoint the executor. It is advisable to make a copy of your will, marked clearly with the word “copy”. Make a note on the copy where the original is kept and inform the nominated executor where the original is kept,” says Slabbert.
Ultimately, you want your last will and testament to care for your loved ones as you wanted, and not to be subject to difficult delays, court actions and, as is often the case, family feuds. (Ecsponent has developed a comprehensive file, with sections for all the important documents pertaining to your financial life, including your last will and testament. Such an organised set of financial records will ease the administration of your estate significantly.)
Update your will regularly
Big events such as deaths or divorces can materially change your life. “When you get divorced you have to change your will within three months, otherwise the estate will be administered according to your last valid will and testament, possibly benefitting your ex,” explains Slabbert.
Your will is something you have to update regularly. Do this when you do your annual financial planning review, advises Slabbert.
Be specific in the wording of your will. “Split up your assets and be specific and clear, saying ‘property X goes to person Y’.”
“Otherwise,” says Slabbert, “people will be confused with broad descriptions such as “my investments must be divided among the grandchildren”. This unnecessary confusion can easily be avoided by being exact and precise.
Include two-step succession planning
Slabbert says it is common to write something along the lines of “if I pass away I bequeath my estate to my spouse/partner” – in other words, the partner that lives the longest will be the beneficiary”
“But people often forget to update their wills, so try at least to include two steps, like ‘should I pass away I bequeath my estate to spouse/partner, and if my spouse passes away before I do, then my children (or grandchildren) must be the beneficiaries’,” says Slabbert. Adding this two-step succession planning is a handy way to try and mitigate confusion should the will not be updated after the death of a spouse, for instance.
The spirit behind all these tips is planning. The old cliché reads: “failing to plan is planning to fail”, and it is ever relevant in the drafting of your final will and testament. Take the time to draft it correctly and keep it updated.
Get your free will drafted with Ecsponent Financial Services’ support
“It is not every day that such a service is offered free of charge and we urge South Africans to take advantage of the opportunity. Take control of your assets and plan for the future, register with us at and have your first basic will drafted by a professional free of charge,” he concludes.