You need to make a will for your family’s sake

It’s easy to dismiss preparing a last will and testament as an annoying administrative task that you can put off until you’re good and ready to deal with it. Unfortunately, life just isn’t that accommodating, and your loved ones could be left facing hardship if you die without leaving a will.

If there is no will, your family will need to apply to the Master of the High Court to have an executor appointed to manage the process. Your estate consists of all your possessions, including your home, bank accounts, investments, and so on – and also any outstanding debt you have, like vehicle finance or a home loan. When you die, no one’s allowed to touch any of your assets while the executor finalises your estate, which is how your family could be left in need.

A will is a record of your wishes

If you have a will, this document sets out how you want your affairs wound up. This includes detailing how you want your assets distributed – assets like cash, property, vehicles, investments and family heirlooms.

The certainty over what you want to happen is one of the reasons that deceased estates with a will get wound up faster than those without one.

If you die without leaving a valid will, it is called dying ‘intestate’. When that happens, the process of wrapping up your estate and distributing assets to your loved ones is governed by the Intestate Succession Act, 81 of 1987. This effectively gives the state-appointed executor the power to control how your assets are distributed, with no regard to what you would have wanted or your family’s needs.

They will receive any assets you leave behind, at some point – and provided there was enough cash in the estate to clear any outstanding debt, otherwise the executor may have had to sell estate assets to pay off your creditors. But your family will get what remains – just not anytime soon, as the finalising of intestate estates can drag on, possibly for years. What is worse, is that a large portion of the estate can also be eaten up by legal fees and taxes.


Companies specialising in wills and estate planning often offer the drafting of the will as a free service


The bottom line is that the pain your loved ones suffer after you’re gone could be multiplied many times over if you die without leaving a legal will.

What makes a will legal?

It’s always best to get professional help when drawing up legal documents, although you are allowed to draft your own last will and testament. This document will be considered legal only if:

  • you’re 16 or older and fully understand what you’re signing,
  • your will is in writing,
  • you and 2 witnesses sign every page of the will,
  • the witnesses are 14 or older and do not receive any benefit in the will, and
  • you and the witnesses sign it in one another’s presence.

Drafting your own will to avoid legal costs might sound like a good idea. It’s not – companies specialising in wills and estate planning often offer the drafting of the will as a free service, because they will be paid a fee for executing the will.

Getting your will drafted by a professional will give you the peace of mind that it is both clear and legal. In contrast, a will you that you have drafted yourself might be legal, but if the wording isn't clear and legally precise, those you leave behind could get stuck in a dispute over what the will means.

The value of professional estate planners

Taking responsibility for what happens after you die is just as important as taking responsibility of your family while you're still alive. This is never an easy topic to discuss, but your nearest and dearest will thank you if you are proactive and put measures in place to protect them after you’re gone. This level of preparation falls under the discipline of estate planning, which aims to set your affairs in order while you’re still alive.

Your last will and testament is a key component of your estate planning, because it sets out what is to happen in your absence. A benefit of using a professional estate planner is that they can provide the legal resources – like a qualified executor who will take care of all technicalities of wrapping up an estate quickly.

Professional estate planners often keep a duplicate copy of the will securely filed away, so that family members don’t have to hunt for your copy and worry about paperwork when they’re grieving. Having someone to take care of these details is an enormous relief at a time when they’ll need support and sympathy.

Nedbank can help with estate planning. You can also apply online to have Nedbank draft your will.