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“A man who dies without a will has lawyers for his heirs” (Anon)
What happens if you don’t leave a valid will?
If you leave no valid will when you die, our “law of intestacy” applies, with the following consequences –
Who gets what without a will?
Note: The persistent myth that the state will grab all your worldly wealth if you die intestate isn’t true except where you leave absolutely no blood relations behind. If you’re in that unlikely situation you may want to skip down now to the “A final thought – leave the world a better place” section below.
Things get more complicated if you leave behind neither spouse nor descendants. Your parents, brothers/sisters and other relations all potentially have a look-in. If you’re interested in the details, the DOJ (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development) provides a full breakdown (with some useful practical examples) here.
The article also covers specifics applying to polygamous marriages, marriages in community of property, adopted and illegitimate children – but as always there is no substitute for proper legal advice on your specific situation.
Beware: You could leave your spouse struggling to survive
If you find it difficult to stop procrastinating on making a will, here’s a thought that may help.
Without a will, if your spouse survives you together with children (or other descendants), he or she will, regardless of age or circumstances, inherit only the greater of R250,000 or a “child’s share”. In a nutshell, your spouse will have to split your estate with your descendants and you could be sentencing him or her to a life of financial hardship, all for want of a simple will.
Similarly you may want to make special provision for any of your descendants who are particularly vulnerable – perhaps unable to fend for themselves through illness or handicap.
It boils down to this – make your will now so that it is you who decides who gets what in your particular family circumstances.
A final thought – leave the world a better place
A will isn’t just an essential step in securing your family’s future; it also gives you the freedom to support your favourite good cause with a bequest. Many of our most worthy charities rely heavily on bequests, and you really will be leaving the world a better place for your generosity.
As a bonus, with charitable bequests the Taxman comes to the party, and your heirs could benefit from substantial estate duty and capital gains tax breaks.
For more detail on making a bequest have a look at (to take one example) the Children’s Hospital Trust’s “Leave a Gift in Will” webpage here.
It’s easy – choose your charity, decide on the type and amount of legacy you want to leave, and have your lawyer include it in your will.