Welcome to my first blog article. I certainly hope you will find my topics informative on the subject of “Last Wills and Testaments”
I’d like to begin by telling you a bit about myself, and why I created the service known as MyWillOnline.
I was trained as a financial planner and have been active in the financial services industry since the mid nineties. Over the years while practicing, one of the first tasks when meeting a new client was to conduct a needs analysis. The second was to offer to draft a Last Will and Testament. Clients would invariably say “yes” since the greater majority would not have one. The idea was to offer a “free” service in the hope of developing a relationship and trust. Once this task was out the way, we would move on to offering other products such as insurance or investment products for which a client would pay a monthly premium and I would earn a commission on the sale. This was a fair transaction provided the advice offered was professional and in the clients’ best interest. What invariably would happen subsequently is that the drafted Will would not be reviewed.
Based on research conducted in the South African market, I have found that in general, there is very little awareness of the relevance and importance of drafting a Last Will & Testament. It is said that around 80% of South Africans do not have a Will. Of the 20% of those who do have a Will, around 90% do not conduct regular reviews which should ideally happen at least once a year.
Why? Because circumstances change! Our lives are constantly changing and evolving. We get married, get divorced, have kids, loose loved-ones. We buy homes and cars and then sell them. We meet new people and get rid of others. We join churches, organizations and social clubs and then change our minds in search of a new experience. We fall in-love and fall out of love. We move homes and sell stuff we once owned. We buy and sell stocks and investments. We plan for the future and sometimes things don’t quite work out as we had planned. We save money and at times waste it. The point I am making is that life is constantly moving, evolving and taking us in new and different directions. As many of us have already figured out, life is not a linear experience.
Why did we create My Will Online?
Ever heard the saying, to know and not to do, is not to know?
Well that’s what happened to me when my eldest sister, Charmaine died unexpectedly at the “tender” age of forty-four leaving behind her only child who was two years of age at the time. She had asked me to update her Will after the birth of her first child and as a financial planner, I was supposed to assist her. As things often happen, we never got around to doing it. We’re all so busy today and we promise get to it tomorrow, and we never get around to doing it until we no longer speak.
The dead do not tell tales!
I remember realising that people who have died no longer speak, well Charmaine didn’t. Which means you cannot ask for information, direction, opinions or suggestions. And so the guessing and assumptions begin leading from one uncertainty to another as we meander our way through the maze of confusion. I don’t mean to be flippant about this observation, but really wish to challenge you to think about it. Imagine walking into a loved-ones home and having absolutely no clue where to begin. Digging through loads of boxes, documents and bills, personal effects stuck in cupboards and attics and trying to make sense of it all.
I consequently ended up having to learn the hard way just how difficult it is to deal with the process of winding up an estate. Until then, I only knew the theory of it all and not the practical side of the process. Can you believe it, it took nearly four years for me to find the original Will which was stored with an attorney who had no idea that his client had passed away and he was appointed as executor to the estate (more on executors in future articles). This was no fault on his part in this instance, since there is no system in place to alert affected parties. Did you know that in many cases, your bank would not know that you have died? Why, because their systems are not setup to do auto checks with the appropriate government departments.
Then there are the costs associated with winding up the estate, which again fell in my lap. Since the Will was drafted before the birth of her only child, the minor was not included in the Will. Recognise the mess beginning to brew here? Now this does not mean that Charmaine was irresponsible in managing her affairs since she did ensure that a Will was in place at the time of her death and thus formed part of the 20% who have drafted a Will. The problem was that it was no-longer in line with her wishes, desires and intentions. Besides, who on earth dies at forty-four?
Why would I need a Will?
Drafting a Last Will & Testament is simply the expression of your wishes, desires and intentions while you are alive, for the benefit of those you leave behind. In essence, it is your voice when you can no longer speak.
There are many reasons why you would draft a Will. It is not necessarily about having large amounts of money or many assets like a property or investment portfolio. While these would definitely form part of your consideration when drafting a Will, it certainly should not be limited to these categories.
Consider the case of Charmaine who had a minor a child. Who was supposed to be the legal guardian of the little guy? Well, perhaps not so little any longer as he will be turning nine on December 30th. I am writing this article while supervising today's homework with the little guy sitting beside me. So I guess in our case, all is well that ends well. But our situation could have been so much different.
A visit to the Dept Social Welfare
When I approached a social worker at the local department of Social Welfare and informed her that I wished to be appointed as my little nephews’ guardian, I was given a batch of application forms, a list of policies and procedures to follow and was subjected to a number of screening processes and unannounced home inspection visits. All in the best interest of the little guy of course. I remember leaving the offices in the inner city of Cape Town that day thinking. So who is supposed to feed the little guy this evening. Where would he sleep, who would change his diapers in the next couple of hours. Who was going to prepare the next feeding bottle and who was going to pay for all this stuff. Needless to say, we went on our merry way and things worked out just fine, in our case. However in other instances, things are not necessarily as simple. Particularly in the case of a child custody dispute where an absent parent miraculously appear out of the woodwork and demand custody of a minor child in order to secure child maintenance benefits from the a deceased parents’ estate. Things can get pretty ugly when money is the motive.
The cost of raising kids
As many of us would already know, raising kids is not a cheap exercise. No matter how much we love and care for them, these little guys can eat you out of house and home. They seem to have the natural ability to destroy your monthly budget, and that’s before they get to go to university. So yes, it costs money and lots of it. So be sure to select a guardian who is both willing and financially capable of raising your minor kids. Better yet is to create a Trust fund to provide for future educational and related expenses. To do this you, you need to draft a Will.
As I said, there are many more reasons why you would need a Last Will & Testament, but more on that in our next article. Look out for my next article as I share more stories on my journey and the topic of Wills.
My Will Online
Your Will, Your Way!