Writing your last will and testament is one of the most important preparations you can make to ensure your family are taken care of when you are no longer around. By writing a will, you gain total control over your estate management and the assurance that your loved ones will be well looked after when you are gone.
What goes into writing a will is, however, more than just ‘who gets what’. The content of a will require a great deal of thought and planning, and there are a large number of things that therefore need to be considered before writing a will. Here are a few of the most important ones.
Things to keep in mind before writing your will
- Determine how you want to write your will. Decide if you will be enlisting the services of:
- a solicitor (if you have complex arrangements or a large estate it is best to see a solicitor)
- professional will writers (these are not qualified solicitors and may not have a regulating body but they are professionals at what they do)
- a charity (there are a number of charities and campaigns that offer free will-drafting services in a bid to encourage will-making and charitable legacies)
- a bank (there are banks that offer professional will-writing services and estate planning advice)
You can also decide to write your will yourself. This is a perfectly acceptable way to write a will but you must ensure that it is written in accordance with the legal requirements of a valid will.
Alternatively, there are online will-writing services and applications that make it easy for you to complete the task with minimal effort, time and expense. You only need to fill in the blank spaces with your information.
- Determine the value of your estate. Before deciding what will go into your will, you need to know what you have and what you don’t. Valuing your estate involves drawing up a list of your assets (including your properties, savings, insurance policies, pension funds, jewellery and/or antique pieces) along with any outstanding debts (such as loans, mortgage, credit card balances etc). Ensure your estate is regularly valued as price fluctuations might affect its value.
- Decide how you want to go about estate division. This is the bit where you decide who gets what. You also need to decide whether or not you want to leave any donations to charity.
- Determine who your executor(s) will be. Your executor is the person who will see to it that the wishes expressed in your will are carried out just as you state. They will oversee the management of your estate and distribution of your assets after your passing. It is a position of great responsibility so your choice of an executor is a crucial one. While you can appoint a solicitor to do this, it’s more common to choose someone you know well and trust.
- Determine the legal guardians for your minor children. If you have children under the age of 18, you will want to name someone (or people) who would act as their legal guardians in the circumstance that they are left without a parent.
Things to do during the will-writing process
- Ensure that set legal requirements are met. These include:
- you must be of testamentary intent (you should know what you are about to do and be doing on your own free will)
- you must have testamentary capacity (that is, you must be of sound mind at the time of writing your will)
- the will writing process should be free of duress, fraud, force, and undue influence.
The will should also be free of clerical errors as they can render it void.
- Name your executors. Your will must include the name of your executor and any secondary executor you might have chosen.
- Name your beneficiaries. Name all those who will be getting a part of your estate. Also, name alternate beneficiaries. These are people who would inherit only if your primary beneficiaries are dead at the time of the will being read.
Also, name those who will take over residual property; that is any property left after your primary beneficiaries have been given their inheritance.
- Give directions on how personal and business assets should be shared. Specify whether you want your assets to be given to beneficiaries directly or if you want them to be sold first and the proceeds divided among the beneficiaries either equally or according to specific percentages.
Some people separate personal assets from business assets. You can decide to follow the same line of thought and state what you want to be done with you business and business assets after your death, especially if you have a sole proprietorship.
- Specify how you want your debts, taxes and outstanding expenses to be repaid.
- You can also decide to cancel any debts owed to you. Here, you can decide to let go of any debts owed you by your debtors along with any interest that might have accumulated on them.
- Name the legal guardians for your children.
- Name caretakers for your pets if you have any. Pets are regarded as property by law. You therefore need to name caretakers who would see to their welfare after your passing.
After the will-writing process
Now that the will has been written, there are still things that need to be done:
- Sign your will in the presence of two witnesses, who cannot be beneficiaries or related to beneficiaries. Your witnesses will also be required to sign.
- Store your will somewhere it is easy for your executor to locate and access. If you used an online will-writing service, you will need to print a copy of your will and store it appropriately.
- Let your executor know the location of the original copy of your will as well as that of any extra copies there might be.
Writing a will is a comprehensive process and there are many considerations to be made before starting. Get these decisions right however, and your loved ones will enjoy the proceeds of a well-written will, and you can enjoy peace of mind that an important job is taken care of.