What is the Main Purpose of a Will?

For a lot of people, worrying about death and what comes after can seem like a macabre affair. Many of us try not to think about it too often and we may even end up dodging conversations and issues that relate to it. This strategy may work for a little while, but as we get older, we tend to fixate on the topic more and more. A common thought that begins to arise in old age is also one of the more terrifying questions we need to answer, namely – What happens to my family when I’m gone?  It’s a scary thing to think about, but luckily, there’s an answer. We’re told we just need to write down a will and everything will be taken care of. That sounds simple enough, but it raises a few more questions that need to be considered. We need to ask ourselves – What does a will really do? How do I set one up? And what happens if I die without one? What is the Main Purpose of a Will?

Your will is used to ensure that your estate is divided up according to your wishes. It guarantees that your loved ones will receive what you leave behind instead of relatives whom you barely know. It can also provide you with the ability to appoint guardians for your children or help to make medical decisions when you are unable to. 

Wills are very important documents to have because, when you die, the government won’t simply give your assets to the person whom you loved the most.

What is the Main Purpose of a Will?
What is the Main Purpose of a Will?

There is, in fact, a specific order of succession which will be followed if you don’t have a will. This may be a problem for some people because a relative that they never got along with could be the next in line to claim their worldly possessions when they pass. 

If you worry about where your estate is going to go when you die, a will can provide you with peace of mind as it allows you to leave your belongings to the person/people whom you really loved. 

With all this in mind, you may be asking yourself – What’s the order of succession?

What Happens if I Die and Do Not have a Completed Will?

As noted, if you die without a valid will, the government will appoint an executor to divide your estate up according to a set formula. 

This formula is known as intestate succession and means that your relatives will be prioritised in the following order – 

Order of Inheritance 

Spouse 
Descendents 
Parents
Siblings
Nearest Blood Relation
State
What is the Main Purpose of a Will?

In instances involving both a surviving spouse and a child/children, an amount known as a child’s share will be determined and the estate will be divided according to the established method.  

How do I Set Up a Will?What is the Main Purpose of a Will?

While it is possible to set up a will by yourself, it is advisable that you seek the help of an attorney as certain guidelines must be followed for the will to be deemed valid. Alternatively, certain institutions such as banks may provide a drafting service. 

If you do intend to make a will yourself with no outside help, here are some things to remember – 

  • You must be 16+ years old 
  • The bill must be in writing. It can be typed or handwritten but the person who writes the will cannot be included in it. Wills that are passed along through word of mouth or memory will not be deemed valid.
  • Each page of the will must be signed by the writer and the will must be signed by at least 2 witnesses. Both witnesses must be 14+ years old.
  • Those who sign the will must be in each other’s presence when doing so. The will should also indicate when and where the signing took place. 
  • Witnesses may not be included as inheritors/guardians/executors/etc in the will. 
What is the Main Purpose of a Will?
What is the Main Purpose of a Will?

Does your Will need to be Certified by a Lawyer?

No, you do not need a lawyer to create or certify a will. It is, however, suggested that you do employ a lawyer if possible as there are many requirements needed to create a valid will and doing it without professional help may result in a will that is null and void.  

What Should you Never Put in your Will?

So let’s assume this article has got you all geared up to make a will and set your affairs in order (you’re welcome), you might be wondering what kind of things can go into it and what should probably be left out. It’s a good question, so let’s go through some of the common mistakes people make when forming their wills – 

  • Jointly-owned Property – In most cases, property that you co-own with another person will pass to the surviving individual upon your death. In other words, it will be difficult to leave your house to a relative in your will if it is jointly-owned by your spouse or another individual.
  • Conditional Inheritance – Avoid leaving things for your beneficiaries that have caveats attached to them. Although an executor will be assigned to carry out your will to the best of their ability, they won’t stick around forever, so try to avoid things like, “My son can have my car once he gets married”.
  • Avoid Impractical and/or Vague Wishes – Once again, the executor of your will won’t be around forever, and even if they are, there’s a limit to how much of your will they can enforce. Try not to include things like, “My wife can have all my money so long as she doesn’t waste it.” Requests like this create a whole lot of issues for the people you leave behind, for instance – What should we consider to be a waste of money? And who’s going to follow your wife around and make sure that she isn’t wasting it?
  • Don’t Add things which are illegal – A case exists in which a person’s will was partly disregarded because he wanted to leave his money to a trust on the condition that it would not go to certain individuals based on their race and/or gender. As these wishes conflicted with the South African constitution, they were not upheld. 
  • Don’t Include Funeral Plans – It can take quite a while for your affairs to be set in order and for your will to be carried out. As a result, your funeral (which happens quite soon after your death) will most likely take place before your will can be fulfilled. If you have specific wishes regarding your funeral, it’s better to communicate these to your loved ones rather than leaving them in your will.

In Conclusion – What is the Main Purpose of a Will?

A valid will allows you to divide your estate up according to your wishes, following your death. When people die without leaving behind a valid will, the government (via an executor) passes their assets along to other individuals according to a set system of priority. This means that a person whom you don’t particularly like may end up getting everything that you own after your death, simply because they were next in line. To avoid these scenarios, people like to leave behind a will that specifies exactly who gets what, thus ensuring that their loved ones are properly cared for. 

What is the Main Purpose of a Will?
What is the Main Purpose of a Will?

Wills can also be used to leave behind specific instructions, such as who will take care of your children when you are gone. Once again, these decisions may be left up to a state-prescribed formula if no will is found to direct the executor. You may even state whom you wish to act as executor in your will.

What is the Main Purpose of a Will? In the event that you do not have a valid will, your estate will be given to relatives in the following order – 

  • Spouse 
  • Descendents 
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Nearest Blood Relation
  • State

You do not need a lawyer to write or certify your will, however, there are various requirements that are needed to make a will valid and failure to meet these prerequisites may render your will null and void. What is the Main Purpose of a Will? Some of the main elements include – 

  • You must be 16+ years old 
  • The bill must be in writing. It can be typed or handwritten but the person who writes the will cannot be included in it. Wills that are passed along through word of mouth or memory will not be deemed valid.
  • Each page of the will must be signed by the writer and the will must be signed by at least 2 witnesses. Both witnesses must be 14+ years old.
  • Those who sign the will must be in each other’s presence when doing so. The will should also indicate when and where the signing took place. 
  • Witnesses may not be included as inheritors/guardians/executors/etc in the will. 

There are also many things that you should not put into your will, for example, you should avoid allocating any jointly owned property as it will usually default to the surviving owner. Additionally, you should make any necessary funeral arrangements known to your loved ones prior to your death as the will is normally settled long after the funeral takes place. 

Disclaimer Finance101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Finance 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make financial decisions that will enable you to become more financially independent in the future. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law & finance-related queries. Should you require specific legal/financial advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified financial expert.

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