Willie Fourie, Head of Estate and Trust Services, PSG Wealth
Drafting a will can be a grudge purchase – not many of us like to contemplate our own demise. However, a will is one of the most important documents you are likely to put in place, so it is worthwhile spending the time in getting it right.
A clearly worded will can help ensure your assets are distributed efficiently to your heirs as per your intention. Conversely, a poorly worded will can put additional strain on your loved ones during what will already be a difficult time.
It’s about finding the balance
Make sure that your will is comprehensive but uncomplicated by paying careful attention to how it is drafted. A will does not have to be complicated to be effective. A carefully, well-thought out will, consisting of only a few pages and drafted by a knowledgeable fiduciary practitioner, can simplify matters for your heirs and save them a significant amount in estate and other taxes.
On the other hand, an overly complicated will might use difficult words and phrases, or incorporate some control mechanism to restrict heirs’ use of worldly belongings. This may be a genuine attempt to protect loved ones, but might only make life difficult for them.
The worst possible thing is when heirs dispute the validity of a will. When interpreting a will, our courts look at the ordinary meaning of words and phrases used in the will. Therefore, be clear and use concise language to avoid confusion.
Key considerations when drafting a will
- Be practical: Do not create a burden for your executor or trustees – and ultimately your family – who have to implement and administer the structures you set in place. For example, trusts that are set up to last in perpetuity can become obsolete in light of changing legislation.
- Ask your children what they want: consider existing trusts and other estate planning vehicles that your children may already have set up. If they prefer to receive any benefit directly, despite the benefit that a control mechanism can offer, then consider this.
- Allow for flexibility: Do not restrict the movement of assets or the transfer of wealth that could otherwise have benefited your children and grandchildren.
- Freedom of testation means that you can leave your assets to whomever you please, as long as your actions are legal. Apart from statutory limitations, there are three general exceptions to this rule namely claims for maintenance from dependents, a surviving spouse or claims in terms of the accrual system created by the Matrimonial Property Act.
- Invest the time in ensuring your will is included as part of your holistic financial plan and that your financial adviser and estate planners are aware of each other’s work. This can help to avoid costly mistakes and misunderstandings.
Make sure your will is clear and that there can be no doubt about your true intentions when you are no longer around to explain them. Make an appointment with an accredited fiduciary practitioner and get it done before it is too late.