There is no reason for you not to write a will

It shouldn’t matter if you are 18 or 81, rich or poor, spiritual or non-believer

In Summary

• Having seen families fighting over land, burial sites, etc., we should know a will is vital

Image: OZONE

Please forgive me if this week’s column is a little morbid. But I've been a little under the weather recently, and although it was not that serious, it got me thinking about what will happen after I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Also, mid-next month, it will be the Law Society of South Africa’s  “National Wills Week”, running from September 11 to 15. 

This is an annual initiative, during which participating firms offer basic will-drafting services for free, and people have been registering for the service since.

Apart from being great public relations for lawyers and their profession, it is also meant to encourage people to consult a lawyer for free to have a basic will drafted.

It targets people who would not normally make use of the services of a lawyer, or who may hesitate to approach one due to cost.

You’d think it would be obvious to many people by now that leaving a will is vital, but a myriad of reasons (from superstition to real fear of being sent to meet the ancestors before your time) prevents people from doing so. 

Also, let's face it, lawyers tend to be outrageously expensive. And some, I say clutching my pearls in horror, have been known to be dishonest when it comes to dead clients and their property.

We all know there can be unhappiness and conflict among members of your family because there are no clear instructions on how to distribute your assets.

So having seen how all sorts of people, from the wealthy to the poor, have died without wills and left their families fighting over properties, land, burial sites and suchlike, we should all be aware that leaving a will is vital.

It shouldn’t matter if you are 18 or 81, rich or poor, a person of faith or a non-believer. What should matter is at least making an attempt to leave your affairs in order for whoever is left.

In South Africa, the Law Society tells me that if you die intestate, your assets are distributed according to the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act. 

This will ensures your possessions are transferred to your spouse and children and, where applicable, to siblings, parents and, if required, then to the extended family in terms of degrees of relationships and those who were dependent on you for financial support.

That’s all very nice, but what if you did not want any of these people to benefit from your passing?

You may have had issues with your spouse or your children or family and would have preferred to see whatever you leave behind go to someone else, such as a charity or your religious leader, even though many of them seem quite well catered for already.

In thinking about a will, I came across stories of infamously strange and bizarre wills left by people in history.

For instance, William Shakespeare wrote in his will that he would leave his wife Anne the “second-best bed”, and then the vast majority of his estate to his daughter, Susanna.

Then there was Fred Baur, who invented the original Pringle tube. Baur used his will to request that he be cremated and buried in one of his tubes. 

Apparently, Baurs children debated which flavour before finally agreeing on the original flavour.

I remember a couple of decades ago, US billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley left $100 million to her little dog, leaving many of her  grandchildren out of the will, and insisting that the rest visit their father’s grave annually just if they wanted to inherit their share.

My favourite story of wills is that of the US singer song-writer Janis Joplin, who two days before her death changed her will so she could leave some money to pay for a posthumous all-nighter event for 200 guests at her favourite pub.

Her instructions were that she was leaving the cash “so my friends can get blasted after I’m gone”. 

If I have any cash left, when it’s my time to go, I think I will try to emulate Joplin, assuming I have any cash left at the end, whenever that is. 

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