What happens when there is a death in the family? What do I do? Who do I contact first? How do I notify the bank? Should I notify the bank? When do I do what? What is an executor? Where do I find the will? Will I have access to money? How long will it take to wind up the estate? Are there any costs involved? Who pays for these costs? How much will it cost?

Have any of the above questions crossed your mind? No, not really. We are not necessarily prepared for death, because we live! We prepare to live life to the fullest, we plan ahead, we budget, we go on vacation, we plan for retirement and old age. We DO NOT plan to die, although we inevitably will. In fact, very few people are prepared for a death in the family. If you are unprepared, you (or your surviving family members) may be in trouble!

Let us start at the beginning, your last will and testament. Everybody earning an income or owning an asset, should have a Will. At least, in your last will and testament, YOU have the say! Without a will you die intestate, meaning that law (read Government) will decide how your belongings will be distributed amongst your family members. If you have no intestate successors, Government (eventually) becomes the proud owner of all your belongings! In your will, YOU decide how your hard earned cash and belongings will be distributed. It is imperative that you have a last will and testament. If you do not have one, ACT NOW, tomorrow could be too late.

As your circumstances change: marriage, children, promotion, starting your own business, investing in property, divorce, etc., your will and testament has to be revised. In fact, every year (perhaps when you complete and file your income tax return) you should have a good in-depth look at your testament, ensuring it suits your (new) needs and it fits your particular circumstances.

DO NOT attempt to do your will and testament yourself, especially in today’s regulated and tax-unfriendly world. Last wills and testaments are not for the DIY enthusiasts! Get the professionals involved. If you do not plan your estate properly it could cost you ! For example, government wants 20% of the value of your net assets. It is called Estate Duty. So, for example, if your net assets amount to R1m, government takes R200 000 (in cash). Government also wants 10% of the value your assets have gained since 1 October 2001 (in cash). This is called Capital Gains Tax. So, how much cash should you have in your estate? Have you done this calculation ?

Then, there is the matter of the executor. The executor earns 3,5% of the value of your gross estate (cash, again). The executor could be your friendly bank, and trust me, they will not negotiate a lower executor’s fee (albeit they have the right to do so) because it is their business to make money! They will even loan (at a “reasonable” interest rate) your inheritance to you for so long as it takes to wind up the estate. This could take up to two years!

Then, lastly, you may have followed the good advice to form a family trust (or business trust, or both) and you have stashed the family jewels there. You may also have your property trust, where you keep your valuable real estate. Are these assets in trusts really safe after your death? Are they really protected from your creditors and especially the long arm of the law, called The South African Revenue Services (SARS)? The case of Landbank vs Parker really put the cat amongst the pigeons. You certainly have to be updated on the latest in this regard. It is not plain sailing any more!

All these, and many more, questions will be answered in our “Property, Trusts, Tax & Death” seminar which will be held soon. The seminar will show you how important it is to do a PROPER ESTATE PLAN. The process of a Proper Estate Plan will be explained in detail. Most of our readers and clients have some sort of estate plan, but invariably it does not include every important aspect. It will also cover your trust(s) and last will and testament. At least, by the time you leave the seminar room you will know which pitfalls to avoid and which aspects you should attend to.

Download the “Seminar Booking Form” from the “Downloads” area of the website and book for the seminar NOW. You can not afford to postpone this any further. You will not regret your participation in this important seminar!

Jannie Rossouw
PS. Please note that the Seminar Booking Form has been removed from "Downloads" until we have fixed the dates and venues for the seminars early next year.