WILLS: What you need to know

If you die without an up-to-date and certified will, you won’t be able to decide who gets what, or who will look after your children.
If you die without an up-to-date and certified will, you won’t be able to decide who gets what, or who will look after your children.

While you’re busy planning what to pack in your hospital bag, or what colours to decorate your baby’s nursery in, something that’s important to add to your to-do list is drawing up a will.

And while it’s sometimes uncomfortable planning for what happens when you die, at the same time you’re planning for a birth, you’ll be doing your child a great service ensuring they are well taken care of if you die.

And quite frankly, that’s more important than any legality or discomfort you’ll go through in getting a will drawn up.

What is a will?

A last will and testament is a legal document that determines what happens to your assets and property after your death, and who will act as legal guardians for your child or children if you’re a single mother, or if your spouse dies at the same time.

It can also be used to create a trust and name a trustee to handle property and financial matters after your death on behalf of your children or others. The will can also include the name of a personal representative or financial institution that will handle your affairs and property after your death.

Drawing up a will is a responsibility of each parent, and no matter what your assets or debts are, it’s still a necessity, and the best inheritance you can leave your child or children.

Why is a will important?

If you die without an up-to-date and certified will, you will be considered to have died “instestate”, and the court will appoint someone to handle your affairs.

Your assets will be distributed according to a formula fixed by the law, which means you won’t be able to decide who gets what, or who will look after your child, for example. Therefore, to avoid even more heartache, as well as fighting, admin, and your kids not being left in good hands, you see why it’s imperative to draw up a will.

How to draw up a will?

You can find basic will templates on the Internet, or even in shops like CNA. Most of these are quite simplistic and generic, and don’t allow for great detailor specifics.

According to Kerry-Anne McDairmant, from BDO Wealth Advisory division, drafting a will through an expert, for example a lawyer or a bank, can be beneficial. “Firstly, they will be up-to-date with any amendments to the laws pertaining to wills and the related issues of winding up your estate.

In consultation with you, an expert will recommend the best way to structure your will, taking your personal and financial circumstances into account plus they can explain the meaning of each clause to you so that you understand all the implications.”

For a will to be valid, it must be in writing (not verbal), signed and dated, and signed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the estate.

According to Kerry-Anne, there is no set tariff prescribed by the government for the drafting of a will, and that the cost would depend on the institution or firm’s rates. You can change your will at any point, or add a “codicil” (an amendment). Bear in mind that your most recent written and signed will be the valid one.

What to think about when drawing up a will

Your starting point will be making a list of all your assets such as cash, property, cars and items of value. Also consider your debts (bond, car payments, credit card etc) and who will be left with that debt.

For example, if your child is the beneficiary of your car, and you have an outstanding payment, he will essentially be left with that debt. Try to ensure that there are assets from elsewhere, eg jewellery, to enable him to make this payment in some way.

You can set up a trust fund for your children as minors – before they reach the age of 18. Trusts ensure that money, managed by a trustee, is set aside and made available to them when they reach a certain age.

Trusts can be quite complex to put together, so it’s recommended that you get a lawyer or expert to guide you along the process.

You will need to name an executor– someone who will be responsible for handling your affairs after your death. It could be a bank or a lawyer, or even a family member, though many don’t advise this, especially if they’re heirs.

These responsibilities can be difficult and tricky for those who don’t have financial experience, or expertise in dealing with these kinds of matters. If you do choose a family member or friend, ensure they are willing to act as an executor for you.

As a parent, one of the most important steps is to name a guardian (either one person, or two in a couple) for your child – someone who will look after your children if they are orphaned before the age of 18.

If you die but the other parent ofyour child survives, the other parent will continue to have full responsibility for your child. If you’re a single parent, you’ll need to appoint a guardian from the on set. When appointing a guardian, consider whether they’ll be able to provide a loving, nurturing and stable environment, whether they’re able to financially and emotionally look after your child, and whether they have the parenting skills you agree with.

Many people think that appointing a god parent for their children means that they will take over legal guardianship in the event of death. It’s important to note that a godparent has religious, spiritual or emotional ties to the child, and is not legally bound.

So even if you do have a godparent, they aren’t usually or legally considered as legal guardians, so ensure you name one in your will and have the peace of mind that your children will be looked after in the way you want.

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Read more:

Update your will or you may as well still be married to your ex, and other surprising ways divorce can affect your legacy

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