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10 True Facts You Didn’t Know About Wills

Nov 28, 2022 | Life

Most of what we know about having Wills is informed by movies and books. Usually, a long-lost relative passes away and a young person is invited to a lawyer’s office where they learn that they have inherited a dilapidated manor house or farm. They move in immediately, no paperwork or other admin required, and start the hard work of doing the old place up. Or becoming a proficient farmer (without experience or training).

If we’re not mistaken, there’s also an impossibly good-looking, albeit grumpy neighbour or handyman who becomes essential to the tale. But we digress.

This is a serious subject and if your knowledge about Wills is summed up in the above, then you’ll need to take a look at these facts that will give you a firmer grasp on what a Will is and what function it serves.

Here are 10 facts about having a Will in South Africa.

For the most part, people choose some form of a long-term insurance product so that they can make sure that their family has the funds to pay for their funeral and burial costs, as well as children’s education, rent or bond repayments, groceries, and other expenses that their loved ones would be responsible on their own.

No matter how long you’ve been together, your life partner is not automatically eligible to inherit your estate when you pass away. A lot of people think that if they’ve been together for over a set number of years, they will be treated the same as a husband or wife would be.

This isn’t always the case.

  1. The fact about life partners

If you do not have a valid will in place, the Government will distribute your estate and it may not recognise your partner as a beneficiary. Putting your partner into your Will is the only way to make sure that they’re taken care of. 

  1. The fact about what you sign with

The South African Wills Act requires you to physically sign your Will in pen and not any other medium. This means you can’t use a digital signature. It’s actually a really strict rule, so it absolutely has to be signed with a pen. Not even a pencil will be recognised.

  1. The fact about where you sign

Did you know that your signature should be as close to the end of your Will as possible? It’s true! It’s considered risky to have a big gap between the last paragraph of your Will and the signature section, because someone could get hold of your Will and make a few ‘additions’ that benefit them.

  1. The fact about beneficiaries and witnesses

If you witness a Will that you’re a beneficiary of, your inheritance will become invalid. This doesn’t mean that the whole Will is invalid, just that you specifically won’t inherit anything that was mentioned in the Will.

Frankly, it’s information like this that make it worthwhile to have your Will drawn up by a professional – someone who knows full well that a witness can’t inherit anything from the Will that they’re signing.

  1. The fact about insurance

A bit of a boring fact, maybe, but if you’re a beneficiary of someone’s Will and you’re inheriting assets that could be damaged or stolen, you can get insurance for these items, even though ownership hasn’t transferred to your name yet.

This is good to know, because if you’re going to get a really expensive watch or your dad’s car, or even the family house, then getting insurance will cover the risk of theft or accidental damage.

  1. The fact about annuities and pensions

Let’s say that you have annuities and a pension. These financial assets also aren’t relevant for estate duty purposes and won’t be dealt with by your Will’s executor. This money isn’t typically paid into your estate account, instead it’s paid directly to your beneficiaries.

  1. The fact about SARS

For income tax purposes, SARS must receive notification of the deceased estate. Before the estate can officially be wrapped up, SARS must issue a tax clearance certificate.

  1. The fact about executors

The South African Administration of Estates Act defines as ‘executor’ as the person authorised to act under letters of executorship granted or signed and sealed by the Master.

You’d think that this person would have to be a lawyer or a financial institution, but really it can be anyone over the age of 18 and with the mental competence to act in this capacity. That said, it really helps to have an objective, external professional who has experience to handle your end-of-life matters.

  1. The fact about having copies of your Will

We all know that it’s good to have copies of your legal documents, in case of something like a fire, but it’s not ideal to have multiple copies of your Will and this could delay the process of wrapping up your estate.

At the most, you could have the original Will and a single duplicate Will. Just note that the Master’s office in South Africa will only accept your original signed Will.

  1. The fact about Will updates

This is a really good fact to know, because most people think that they need to create a whole new Will if they make any changes. This isn’t true. You’re allowed to make changes to your existing Will and actually, it’s encouraged to make updates in order to reflect your current circumstances.

When you need to make changes, there’s a procedure that you need to follow, like attaching a codicil to it and making sure that these updates are done to your back-up copy.

Speak to the professionals

No one really wants to think about their own mortality, but it’s a fact of life. One day, we all will pass away and how we plan for what happens next can have a huge impact on those we leave behind. For that reason, we’d argue that your Will is the most important legal document in your life and should be drafted by a professional.

This way, you can be specific about how you wish your estate to be divided, prevent unnecessary costs and delays in winding up your estate, and avoid further emotional stress for your loved ones. Without a valid Will, however, there can be some awful consequences for your loved ones.

Getting a Will done by a professional doesn’t have to cost you! Click here to get a free Will drawn up today.

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