A will ensures your assets remain with the chosen ones
Home is where the heart is, and when homeowners die without a will, it leaves many families in quandary.
Elmarie Neilson of Neilsons Attorneys in Cape Town, who handles the administration of deceased estates, says it is common in South Africa for a single property to be owned by a number of people, especially in communities where couples are typically married in community of property and often die without leaving a will.
If you pass away without a will your assets - your home, vehicle, money and other possessions - will be distributed among your heirs according to the Intestate Succession Act.
The distribution of your assets may be complicated if any of your children have passed on and were married in community of property, because then that child's portion of your estate will then go to their spouse or spouses.
Neilson says as a husband you may have in mind that your surviving spouse will continue living in your home after you pass on.
But if the family home is the only asset in the estate, your wife may find herself homeless if the executor is forced to sell the property to pay your liabilities or the administration costs of the estate.
The estate will then be split up between your spouse and your descendants and your spouse could face a life of financial hardship simply because you did not specify your wishes in a will, she says.
If you die without leaving a will your assets may not be left to the person of your choice
In a will you can make provision for your spouse to live in the property until his or her death and your children may only inherit the house when your life partner passes away.
If you choose to divide your assets among your spouse and children, and the main, or only asset, is the family home, rather say in your will that the house should be sold and leave the cash from the sale of the house to be divided among your spouse and children, Neilson says. Nothing prevents any of the heirs or their spouses from buying the property if they choose to do so.
What inevitably happens is that fighting breaks out among family members because it is impractical for everybody to live in the property. This is why it is important for each person who owns property and who has children or family members dependent on them to have a will, Neilson says.
Mvuzo Notyesi and Ettienne Barnard, co-chairpersons of the Law Society of SA (LSSA), say if you die without leaving a will your assets may not be left to the person of your choice; it can also take longer to have an executor appointed, and the executor who is appointed may be somebody you may not have chosen yourself.
In addition, there could be unnecessary costs and there could be unhappiness and conflict among members of your family because there are no clear instructions on how to distribute your assets.
A valid will allows you to state your last wishes - who should inherit your assets and property, to appoint an executor of your choice for your estate and also a guardian for your minor children.
South Africans are invited to have a simple will drawn up for free this week at attorneys around the country this National Wills Week - September 17 to 21. Contact details of all participating attorneys can be accessed on the website www.LSSA.org.za