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Why you should make a point of reviewing your will at least once a year

Opinion editorial by René le Roux, Estate Administrator at Legatus Trust (Media Release: 20150308)

Too often wills and testaments are outdated and need to be reviewed. When last have you taken a proper look at your will? Is it up to date for when you are no longer around?
Nobody likes to think about their own death, but planning for that day is important and should not be postponed. Keeping your will updated, ensuring that everything is still in order once a year, or when important life changes occur, is part of that planning process and will prevent your loved ones from having to deal with added stress later on.

Legatus Trust, a long-standing, well respected authority on the drafting of wills and rendering fiduciary services throughout South Africa, thus advises its clients to have their wills revised at least once a year.

But why exactly is this so important? What’s the worst thing that can happen if someone has an outdated will? There are a variety of possible implications, for instance:
  • Intended beneficiaries can find themselves being left out of the will. For example, if a first child is named as a beneficiary and more children are born later, the will needs to be reviewed to include them. Otherwise only the person who was named will inherit – and the others will have to put in a claim against the estate.
  • Assets can change drastically over the years and your will should reflect that. For example, if you no longer own the house you bequeathed ten years ago, or you sell a family heirloom that is mentioned in the will, it has to be amended. 
Would a will that was drawn up in 1989 still be relevant today? Although it still remains valid, it is probably not relevant to your current situation any longer. Life happens while we don’t adapt our wills. Divorce, remarriage, the birth or death of a beneficiary and drastic changes to your original assets – for instance the sale of a property or the purchasing of several new ones are examples of what you might add to your list of life changes.
Let’s stand still by divorce for a moment. A bequest to your wife or husband will not fall away upon divorce. Divorced couples have a three month window in which to review their respective wills otherwise your divorced spouse will benefit as indicated in the will, unless the will has been formally amended. Remarrying would also mean an amendment in order to make your current partner a beneficiary.

Think ahead when deciding which items you want to include in your will. Some bequests or nominations are simply not practical:
  • Leaving firearms or cars to minors. Although this often happens, it is a bad idea – what are they going to do with it, and who is going to keep it for them until they grow up?
  • Leaving singular assets, such as a car or the treasured family Bible to more than one person – who ends up with which part? It makes more sense for assets like these to be left to a single person, or sold – and the money divided between beneficiaries.
  • Nominating a guardian for your children or an executor who are not resident in South Africa.
Also give some thought to the beneficiaries of your will. 
  • Those who aren’t getting along now, will be as unlikely to do so if you were to pass away. You don’t want to force them into an uncomfortable and emotionally painful situation by naming them both beneficiaries of a house.
  • It seems like an easy option to leave your house to your life partner or child, but it can turn out to be rather more complicated than that. There are a few things one should take into consideration – especially if there is still a mortgage to be paid on the house, or if the outstanding debt is not covered by insurance.  Beneficiaries might get very little money if your will stipulates that they have to sell a house in a weak market, or may find it financially difficult to take over the instalments.
The golden rule remains to have your will reviewed at least once a year. A trust company like Legatus will be able to guide you through the process to make sure nothing important is being omitted or overlooked.

Making sure your will is updated is equal to looking after your loved ones’ best interests. For you and for them it brings peace of mind knowing that you have planned for that inevitable 'one day'. 

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