Secure your legacy: An essential guide to estate planning and wills

Shahleen Stokes
20 September 2023
5 min read

Did you know that, according to the Master of the High Court’s data, more than 70% of working South Africans don’t have a will?  

It provides a tell-tale sign that the majority of South Africans may not fully grasp the importance of estate planning and having a last will and testimony. Whether you're a young professional or a seasoned individual, understanding the essentials of estate planning is crucial. We highlight the significance of having a will, regardless of age or financial status. We also shed light on the different elements of a will and the broader context of estate planning. Finally, introducing NMG’s newly launched Wills and Trusts division as a valuable resource for helping you safeguard your legacy and make sure your last wishes are honoured.

Why every adult needs a will.

There are several reasons why every working adult should have an up-to-date, valid will. The most important reason is that it will save your loved ones time, money and stress. Without a valid will, it takes longer to wind up your estate, which in turn may attract more fees and taxes. During that time, family members are grieving your loss while facing the financial strain of losing an income unexpectedly. Other important reasons include:

  • You have the final say – your wishes regarding who gets your money and assets must be carried out according to your will.
  • It gives you control over who manages your estate – you get to choose an executor that you trust will manage your money the way you want it to be managed.
  • You can stipulate who should take care of your minor and older children (if they are still dependent on you) by nominating a guardian you know and trust.
  • It’s the best way to avoid family arguments – when your wishes are in writing it won’t be easy for family members to argue over the distribution of your assets and capital.
  • If you have specific funeral requirements, you can detail them in your will to make sure they are carried out.
  • You can safeguard donations to a charity that’s close to your heart.

When there is no will, the state will appoint an executor and your assets and money will be treated according to the Intestate Succession Act (Act 81 of 1987). This means that the executor could be someone who doesn’t know your family and your family’s needs and challenges.

Instead, your estate will be distributed according to the Intestate Succession order:

  1. Your spouse
  2. Your children
  3. Your parents – if you died without a surviving spouse or children
  4. Your siblings – only if one or both parents are predeceased

As a husband in a polygamous customary union, the order of preference is as follows:

  1. If you left only spouses and no children, your wives will inherit equal shares of your estate.
  2. If you left spouses and children, the spouses and children will inherit the estate in equal shares, but:
    1. Each wife should inherit at least R250 000
    2. When your estate is not large enough to allow each wife to inherit R250 000, the spouses will inherit the estate in equal shares while the children won’t receive anything.

While this may seem fair to some, each family has its own dynamics that will be overlooked. For example, a husband and wife are estranged and have both moved on without finalising a divorce. The legally married spouse will inherit the money and, if relations are strained, the children could lose out.

Understanding your will

Since a will is a legal document, there is terminology that you would need to understand before you get started. This will help you make sure your will is clear and concise, so that there is no misinterpretation. Following is a list of the more common terms used in wills:

  • Estate: Your estate is the sum of all the money, assets and property you own at the date of your death. It also includes your liabilities – the money you owe creditors.
  • Assets: These are the belongings or properties that you own at the time of your death, for example, a car, an expensive watch or a holiday home.
  • Testator: You are called the testator if you have a valid will in place at the time of your death.
  • Executor: The person who has been appointed by the court or nominated by you to administer your last will and testament – they make sure your instructions are carried out.
  • Beneficiaries: These are the people who receive money, assets or property as a result of being included as a beneficiary in your will.
  • Witness: Any person who is 14 years old or older can sign as a witness to a will, as long as a court of law didn’t find them to be incompetent to give evidence in court at the time. A beneficiary to a will can’t sign as a witness.
  • Legal guardian: A legal guardian is a person who is appointed by the court or nominated by you in your will to take care of your children. They make decisions on behalf of your minor children or adult dependents who are incapacitated.
  • Revocation: This is when you revoke all previous versions of your will. It is a clause you add into your will – called the revocation clause – to make sure your latest will is followed, and all previous versions are cancelled.
  • Joint will: Married couples or couples who are in common law relationships may set up a joint will to express a combination of their last will and testimony.
  • Living will: This type of will stipulates the type of medical care you want if you can’t speak for yourself. It spares your family from having to make life-or-death decisions for you if, for example, you are on life support.

Broader estate planning strategies

Even though your will is an essential cog in the legacy you leave for your family, it is only one aspect of your broader estate planning strategy. A comprehensive estate plan is a full overview of your financial situation at the time of your death and it should consider:

  • The distribution of your assets
  • Your beneficiaries' needs
  • When your beneficiaries will receive your money or assets and how it will be transferred to them
  • Liquidity to cover liabilities and the costs of administering your estate
  • The efficient structuring of estate duties
  • Setting up trusts to protect young children or adults who can’t look after their own financial affairs
  • Giving a selected person power of attorney to act on your behalf

In essence, it is a broader plan that looks into every eventuality of your death so that when it comes to pass, the financial transition your family faces through your death is pre-planned and therefore a smooth and painless process.

Many people think that estate planning is only for the rich. This is simply not true. Every person who passes on will have an estate. The winding down of their estate, even if they have minimal assets and money, will still be required. To avoid lengthy delays in winding down your estate, having a structured plan in place will take substantial pressure off your loved ones when they are grieving your loss. It is one of the kindest parting gifts you can give them.

Introducing NMG Wills and Trusts

NMG has introduced an online will service that will help you create a valid will quickly and easily. All you need to do is answer a few questions and submit your answers. Once you have created your will online, you can also save it online. This means that you will have an online will that can never get lost and can be updated by yourself at any time. We realise that many people don’t have wills because they think it is a complicated and costly process. With this new online service, it really doesn’t have to be. It is our aim to help more families benefit from having a will in place so that families are not left in the dark during what could be one of their most difficult times in life.

No matter your age or financial status, having a will is a must. It's your blueprint for the future, guiding how your assets are distributed and securing your loved ones' financial and emotional well-being.

Are you ready to secure and preserve your legacy?

You can start by exploring the essentials of estate planning and considering how NMG Wills and Trusts can help simplify this process for you. Don't leave your loved ones with a financial burden in their time of need, rather preserve your legacy with a will and a plan for your estate.

T&Cs apply. NMG Consultants and Actuaries (Pty) LTD is an authorised financial services provider FSP 12968


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