Agnes Chikukwa Hove
Some people think estate planning is only for wealthy individuals who own several million-dollar properties all over the world. Nothing could e farther from the truth. The most basic definition of estate planning is simple. It is the process of deciding what happens to your assets and affairs when you die or become incapacitated. By this definition, estate planning is for everyone.
A Will or last will and testament is the first thing that people associate with estate planning. While it’s true that writing a will behind can help ensure that your dying wishes are carried out, there’s more to estate planning than a last will and testament. Sound estate planning is not only be about what you will leave behind. It should also include provisions for your care in case you are no longer able to make these decisions yourself. A trusted family member or friend can act as your representative in matters of healthcare. You should also designate someone to make financial decisions for you under the same dire circumstances. Finally, have your wishes regarding the final arrangements for your remains clearly written down. Estate planning should leave little as possible to chance.
Write a Will
Roughly 75% of South Africans die intestate, that is, without leaving a will. This may be largely due to the fact that most people, not just South Africans, are uncomfortable talking about death. Writing a will means facing one’s mortality, thus people tend to avoid it until it’s too late. But if you die without a will, the state gets to decide how your estate will be distributed. You may not necessarily agree with how the state will go about this. Of course, by the time the state takes over, you can no longer do anything about it. Having a will prevents this from happening. It helps to ensure that your plan for the disposition of your assets – not anyone else’s – is carried out.
Leaving a will is basic estate planning 101. It’s a good place to begin, but don’t stop there.
Be sure to have a document that clearly states your preference for either cremation or a burial. You may have already indicated your preference to your spouse or adult children. But grief can cloud memories as well as judgement, so it’s still a good idea to have this written down. Bequests, such as sentimental items or small amounts for long-time associates, can be contained in a separate document. You can change this at any time without paying to update your will. Remember to date the document every time you amend it so your heirs will know they have the latest version.
You may think you’re not rich enough to be concerned about estate planning but you would be wrong. Estate planning isn’t about wealth distribution. It’s about making sure your wishes and plans for your assets and heirs are carried out after your death. Towards this end, writing a will is a good first step. A knowledgeable estate planner will know whether to recommend a revocable or irrevocable trust to house your assets. Estate planning should also include provisions for your care in the event you can no longer make these decisions yourself. Give power of attorney to someone who you know with honour your wishes. This holds true for both healthcare and financial matters.
A final word – there is no such thing as a basic estate planning template that works for everyone. As with asset protection, an estate plan is crafted for each individual. Similar instruments and devices may be used, but each estate plan is customised according to your unique circumstances.
It’s never easy to grapple with one’s departure from this mortal coil. But knowing that you are leaving your loved ones well-provided for should ease any discomfort the thought of dying brings.
Note: The above is for informational purposes only on this page is not to be considered tax, legal or other professional advice. If such advice is needed, seek the services of a licensed attorney or accountant.