People with relatively few assets, says Saneli Ngcobo, often feel that there is no point in drawing up a will. They are, she says, possibly deterred by the knowledge that making a will involves paying a fee to the attorney and they may also have such faith in the laws of the land that they believe these will see to it that whatever they leave behind goes to the appropriate beneficiaries.
Sometimes, adds Ngcobo, they may also feel that they are too old or too young and sometimes (in a very few cases) they simply do not care what happens to their assets after their death.
In other cases, says Ngcobo, they may go the DIY route and try to draw up a will themselves, witnessed possibly by neighbours, friends or even the heirs themselves. (There are serious consequences to getting this wrong – such as invalidating the will or disinheriting a chosen heir).
Those who neglect to make a will are at risk that their assets do not end up with the preferred heirs – or perhaps not in the proportions they would have wanted, or with serious “strings attached” that limit access to the funds in ways that could have been avoided. Those who do draw up wills themselves tend to make fundamental mistakes such as failing to appoint an executor or trustees (especially where there is a possibility of minor children or grandchildren inheriting), or to leave loopholes and ambiguities that create unnecessary uncertainty and stress for those left behind. And of course, there are those special items that have sentimental value to a particular family member, which only a will can properly allocate. “In our experience, family members are well served by creating as much certainty as possible – without that, the already difficult grieving process can be further complicated.” There is much to be said for obtaining proper professional advice in connection with one’s estate.
Changes in circumstances often also require a review of one’s will – it is important not to just assume that because one signed a will 10 years ago, it still adequately caters for one’s wishes.
“The relatively small cost of making a will with the help of a lawyer is almost always more than compensated for by the way such wills facilitate passing on inheritances and ensuring that they end up in the right hands,” says Ngcobo. “This advice is not a new, but it is surprising how often it is not observed.”
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