What to put in your will, and what to leave out

The simplest wills are often the best wills. Here are two helpful lists of what to include and exclude when drafting your last will and testament.

What to put in your will, and what to leave out

What to include in your will

  1. Revoke all other wills: Start your will with a ‘revocation’ clause that revokes all other wills. This ensures that even if another will might surface after you pass away, this one simple line will spare your loved ones distress and save them from family feuds and even legal wrangles over inheritance.
  2. Mirror wills instead of a joint will: Spouses and life partners should consider drafting ‘mirror wills’ (identical wills naming each other as beneficiaries), instead of a joint will, which can lead to lengthy delays in the winding-up of both estates.
  3. Trusts: If you have minor children it is important to make provision in your will for a testamentary trust and to name trustees who must oversee your minors’ inheritance. Otherwise, their inheritance could pass to the government Guardian’s Fund.
  4. Guardianship: You can nominate a guardian for your minor child/ren in your will, but bear in mind that this is only a recommendation – the courts have the final say and must act in the best interests of the child.
  5. Beneficiaries: Specify your beneficiaries and each one’s inheritance, but limit it to big assets and as few people as possible. The longer this list, the longer your estate will take to finalise.
  6. Executor: Choose your executor with care as legal fees can erode the value of your estate and significantly impact your legacy. It is a commonly held misconception that the family lawyer or a family member who is a lawyer is the best person to wind-up your estate. This is often not the case. It could also lead to conflicts of interest. Your estate and your loved ones would be better off making use of professional estate administration services.
  7. Last wishes: This is a section in your will where you can set out your wishes, for example whether you want to be buried or cremated.
  8. Regular updates: If you are recently married, had a child, been divorced or experienced another significant life event, you should update your will to reflect your latest circumstances.
  9. Signatures: To be valid, your last will and testament must be signed by you and two witnesses in ‘wet ink’ signatures, i.e. not signed digitally. When you have your will witnessed, remember that witnesses may not benefit from your estate or be named as executors, trustees or guardians.

What to leave out of your will

  1. Property details: It is not necessary to state the address of a property that you own in your will. Simply referring to your ‘residential property’ is sufficient because then it does not matter whether you’ve moved and not gotten around to updating your will to reflect the new address. Nor would it lead to the bequest lapsing if the property had been sold and another one purchased, without your will having been updated.
  2. Vehicle details: A vehicle is viewed as property by law, so in the vast majority of cases (unless you own a collection of rare cars!) it would be sufficient to say who your vehicle/s must go to without stating the make, model and registration number of the vehicle. This would make it simpler and quicker to wind-up your estate.
  3. Pets: Do not name your furry family members as beneficiaries in your will because they are classified as property by law, and can therefore not inherit.

Passing away without a will 

Estate law determines that passing away without a will (‘intestate’) means your estate becomes subject to the Law of Intestate Succession. In practical terms, this means a legal formula is applied to finalise your estate and you will have no say in the asset distribution, your heirs’ and beneficiaries’ inheritance, or how your wishes are carried out. That’s why having a last will and testament is so important. Apart from drafting a will, you should also discuss your wishes with your loved ones while you are alive. These conversations may be difficult, but they could help avoid family feuds and even legal battles, so do not put them off indefinitely.


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