I understand our attention span and willingness to read long documents is limited but bear with me. I wrote my first article on this intimidating and unsettling topic in 2016, and looking back now, I am so relieved that I not only shared this with my friends and family but made time to sit with my dad and helped him tidy up his affairs, not knowing that a few short months later he would no longer be with us. The task would have been far more emotional, time-consuming, and burdensome had I not.

Whilst death is inevitable, having an updated Last Will and Testament (Will) is arguably one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. Looking at the ‘universe of things’ that we currently find ourselves in, there couldn’t be a more crucial time than now for you to get your housekeeping done and your affairs in order. We mean to get to these ‘tasks’ but in the end, it is our loved ones that suffer if we don’t. As Richard Cushing wisely said, “Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built The Ark.”

Whilst taking time to determine the contents of your Will could be slightly complex, there are only four specific criteria required for a Will to be valid, namely:

1. It must be in writing; it can be written by hand, typed, or printed,
2. The signature of the testator/testatrix must appear at the end of the will,
3. This signature must be made in the presence of two or more competent witnesses and,
4. These witnesses must attest and sign the Will in the presence of the testator/testatrix and of each other.

A distressing fact is that many people have the perception that only ‘wealthy’ or ‘older’ people need a Will, yet the reality is that reaching an older age is not guaranteed for anyone and Wills contain so much more than merely how you wish to have your assets distributed. Your Will legally protects your spouse, children, and assets and gives you the opportunity to detail exactly how you would like things handled after you have passed on.

Let’s look at some of the benefits of a valid Will:

  • Avoid Family Disputes –
    While we hate to think that there might be arguments over our estate, having a Will helps minimise any family fights that may arise, and clearly details ‘who’ you want to get ‘what’. If you die without a Will you are deemed to die ‘intestate’ and your estate is then distributed according to the law of intestate succession – meaning that the Master of the High Court will appoint a curator to administer your estate as the current law dictates.
  • Nominate a Guardian for Minor Children –
    Your Will allows you to nominate who should take care of your minor children. Without a Will the State will choose among family members or a state-appointed guardian and this might not be the person you would have chosen, a situation that no-one wants to put their children in.
  • Include Testamentary Trust Provision –
    This is a trust which is especially suited to the protection of minors and other dependants who aren’t able to look after their own affairs. A testamentary trust is a trust created in terms of your Will and comes into effect after your death. The trust is administered by trustees appointed in terms of your Will, and usually terminates after a predetermined period or at a determined event, e.g. a minor turning 21 or the death of an income beneficiary. This trust can cover everything in your estate or selective aspects such as Life Policies, specific assets, and lump sums of money.
  • Minimise Death Tax and Associated Costs –
    Having a Will allows you to minimise your estate taxes through understanding what can be left to family members, what can be donated to charities etc. These could reduce the value of your estate when it’s time to pay estate taxes.
  • Nominate Expert Executors –
    Executors ensure that all your affairs are in order, including paying bills, notifying banks and other businesses, cancelling your credit cards and other critical administrative duties. Understanding that your executor will play the biggest role in the administration of your estate, you need to be sure to appoint someone who is honest, trustworthy, and organised. (This is often not a family member as it requires specialised knowledge and an unemotional unbiased position.)

Create a checklist of all the important documents and information you need

What is so often neglected, are the vital documents containing all of your personal/specific information, that should be easily and quickly accessible. Isn’t it frustrating that when you urgently need to find a specific document, you find every single document, except the one you’re looking for? Winding up the Estate of a loved one can be fraught with legal, financial, and procedural hurdles. We all know the complexity we face in trying to keep track of legal documents, warranties, certificates, passwords, and pins in our lives but none more so than when there is the additional trauma after an unforeseen tragedy that requires one of these documents to be presented. If something were to happen to you, would your loved ones not only be able to quickly locate your important information, but would they know what is available to them?

One way to make it simpler would be to create a checklist of all the important documents and information you need, keep them in a secure place and inform your loved ones or nominated person/s where to find them. Whilst this is not exhaustive, here is a starting point of some critical documents:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Identity Documents
  • Death and Unabridged Birth Certificates
  • Marriage/Divorce papers
  • List of important contact names and numbers that may be required in case of an emergency or death (close family and friend)
  • Insurance Policy details: Homeowners, Householders, Car, Medical, Life, Disability, Funeral, Income Protection, Education policies for children and Retirement policies etc

Please refer to our website by visiting Last Will and Testament Checklist where we have a full, updated list.

Where should you keep your Will?

Following on from this is the critical question “Where should I keep my Will?” we suggest storing a copy of the original digitally, however safety deposit boxes can also be used. If you have a fireproof safe at home or the office, these too would be a good option but ensure that your loved ones know where it is and have access to it. Keeping certified copies of all original documents at a separate location is advisable as a backup and leaving a copy with your Financial Advisor is also a sound option.

So having survived the long read, the stress and depth of the topic, I state again….Spring has sprung – is your Will done?

Harbour Wealth clients can have their Will’s reviewed, or a new one drafted, at no cost. We have also negotiated a standard discount of 25% on executor’s fees for life for our clients, irrespective of the estate size.

When you update your Will, it takes preference over any previous Wills drafted, making the process of revising your Will even easier. Get in touch with your Harbour Wealth Financial Advisor for more details.