Morris dies suddenly soon after his 70th birthday. Two months later, his family is sitting around the desk of Morris’s attorney for the reading of the Will. The attorney thanks all of them for coming and then reads out Morris’s Last Will and Testament.

“I, Morris Avraham Levy, being of sound mind, make the following gifts. To my beautiful, sweet wife Rivkah, I leave my house, my Manhattan apartment, and two million dollars in cash and shares. Enjoy darling. To my handsome and hardworking son Paul, I leave my Lexus and $800 000 in cash. Keep up the good work, Paul. To my gorgeous and clever daughter Suzanne, I leave my Jaguar and $600 000 in cash. I love you, darling Suzy. And to my brother Henry, who always told me in no uncertain terms that ‘health’ is so much more important than ‘wealth’, I leave my exercise bike and treadmill.” (1)

If you or your spouse had to die today, would you know where to find the important documents that will be needed? Quite sobering? Yes. A practical question? Definitely! Life is unpredictable and when the unexpected happens, will you be ready? How can you be ready? Firstly, recognise that no-one knows when they are going to die, so take action. Procrastinating could be very costly for your family. Secondly, start to have relevant conversations with your loved ones. Discuss: your Will with your partner, and older children, the insurance expectations you have put into place, your thoughts regarding your investments, your plan for who will pay for your funeral, and if you would like to be buried or cremated, as just a few examples.

Some practical pointers for leaving a legacy of kindness ….

  • Decide on one location where you will keep your important documents so that your family and the executor of your estate will be able to find them. This will save them much time and emotional energy at a time when dealing with grief may make it difficult for them to remember things. Some ideas include using a file, scanning it into clearly labelled folders or even use an online security vault. For the latter make sure your family and executor know how to access it.
  • In the event of a death, the first two documents that will be required will be the deceased’s ID book and their Will. Regarding the ID book, I imagine you usually have one place where you keep it, but sometimes you’ll move it for various reasons. Make a note of both of the above. Writing down all other possible places you leave it, as this will make it far easier for someone to find it, if the unpredictable should happen when you have popped your ID into another place. Put this note with your important papers.
  • Your Will is a vital document that you need to have and that you need to ensure is up-to-date. A Will clearly states how you would like your estate to be dispersed. What is the big deal of dying ‘intestate’ (the fancy word for dying without a Will)? Things typically take longer and are often more costly.

“If you die without a Will, your estate will be distributed in terms of the law of intestate succession. This may include beneficiaries whom you may not have wished to benefit or may exclude persons whom you would have preferred to benefit. The Master of the High Court will appoint a tutor or curator to take care of or administer the property of your minor children, and their inheritance will go to the Guardians Fund. A guardian, who may be different to the person you would have preferred to care for your children, may be appointed by the court for that purpose. Finally, when a person dies intestate, the Master appoints an executor of the estate.” (2)

If your Will needs to be created or reviewed, I strongly recommend you see an attorney to help you take care of things so that your Will covers all the aspects of your estate as you would like them to be managed.

  • Signing a Living Will is enormously beneficial to the family who need to decide on the best course of action to take if you are no longer of a sound mind and able to speak for yourself. It is a way for you to communicate your wishes on what medical treatment you would or would not like to have, supposing you are in a vegetative state or suffering from a terminal illness. Families are more often than not divided during such a tough, emotionally charged time and a Living Will can help the relevant medical staff guide the family in these situations.

In conclusion, thinking ‘out of the box and into an ordered file’, will bring you some amazing peace of mind.