As human beings, emotions often dictate our behaviour. One of our dominating emotions (if we are honest with ourselves) is fear. Fear of loss, fear of being hurt, fear of being poor, fear of missing out, fear of being sick, fear of clowns, fear of needles…and probably most significantly, for most of us; the fear of dying too soon.
One of the “problems” of dying too soon is that we are often unprepared for the event which means that those left behind could be left up the creek without a boat (never mind the paddle) if our affairs are not in order.
A good starting point to prevent this happening is to make sure that you have a valid will in place and that someone else knows where the original is kept. Drawing up a will is a relatively simple (and completely painless) process – no needles will be used.
But this is where our emotions get in the way – we have the mistaken belief that somehow if we draw up a will we are increasing the likelihood of our demise. The truth is that we are all going to die one day – drawing up a will is a responsible and thoughtful thing to do – it does NOT increase the chance of you dying! If you have dependents and don’t have a will then you are being incredibly stupid and very selfish too.
Stop putting it off – get it done today!
Following another bout of load-shedding I noticed that the clock on the clock-radio in our bedroom was flashing on and off (it needs to be reset each time the power goes off). I was too lazy to reset it (again) and decided to ignore it (maybe my wife would do it if I pretended not to see it). This got me thinking that there are some things in life that can be ignored but there are also some things (especially in our financial lives) that cant be ignored – such as the need to have a valid will if you are married and/or have dependents.
The resistance to drafting a will (that many people experience) is one of those completely irrational fears that we have. We are all going to die (someday) and yet somehow we think that if we draft a will, or even talk about it, we have tempted fate and summoned the grim reaper. The reality is that the consequences of dying intestate (without a valid will) could be devastating for your family. They could be left without access to funds and worse still, your assets could end up in the guardian’s fund (which is in a mess) and your children could end up in state care. Need any more motivation to get it done?
In short, you need 4 things to draft a will:
- An executor – the person who will do the winding up and distribution of your estate
- Beneficiaries – who do you want to inherit if you are no longer around.
- Guardians for minor children – they are the people who will look after your minor children if you are not around. Don’t think into the future but rather appoint the people who are currently the most appropriate. You can always amend this again in a few years.
- Trustees – they are the people who will look after the money for your minor children and need to have a good track record when it comes to dealing with things financial!
Armed with this information you can approach just about any Certified Financial Planner® or attorney for assistance. Typically you could expect to pay between R500 and R750 for the will to be drafted. Once you are satisfied with the wording then you need to sign it in the presence of 2 witnesses, who must not be people mentioned in the will and who also don’t need to read the will. They are just witnessing that you are signing it. They will also need to sign in the appropriate places.
Once signed, either hand it back to your financial planner or attorney for safe-keeping, or put it into a safe place at home/the office. Just make sure that you have told someone else where you have put it – if no one can find it when you die then it would almost be the equivalent of not having one.
Remember, drafting a will is a simple exercise that does not increase the probability of your death and unlike the flashing clock it cannot be ignored!
“No man is an island, Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were. Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.” *
I was reminded again this week of the importance of financial planning, especially with regard to getting your affairs in order for when you “check out” of this world. It is not a nice thing to talk about or even to think about but the reality is that death will come to us all and one of our legacies will be how we leave our affairs and our loved ones when we go. Two cases in quick succesion this week made this alarmingly clear…
When you are not here, you wont be able to tell people what you wanted to happen to your things…so it is vital that you put it in writing (that’s the point of the will). Without a will, not only do you leave people emotionally distraught beause of your death but you potentially also leave them financially distraught (stuffed night be a better word here) as your funds will sit in limbo for a very long time (maybe even 5-10 years) while the courts decide who gets what. This issue was highlited by a case of a father of 2 dying without a will…if only he had made the time to draft the will – its an half hour exercise (at most).
The other point I want to make is that you cant (or should not) try to rule from the grave…it’s just messy and it often also reveals a lot about the kind of person you really were while you were alive. Things change and your will needs to allow a degree of flexibility so that those left behind can really benefit from your legacy – too often we have seen cases with trusts that have been set up that have fortunes in them but where trustees are unable (or unwilling) to make funds available to the beneficiaries because of some wording in the will or trust deed. You wont be around to change this so keep it simple.
While I was reading the 2nd will this week I read some very hurtful and unkind things that were in the will and I could not help but think that “this is now in writing, for all to see, for all eternity…ouch it’s got to hurt”…and that will be a lasting memory. So never draft (or alter) your will in a fit of emotion – it is something that needs calm and rational thought.
Finally, when you draft your will, do it as if you are leaving today. What is best if you are leaving this afternoon (not what will be the best in 10 years time)?
*Quote from: For whom the bell tolls by John Donne