Use lockdown to update personal data so family is prepared in case of death
The first few weeks in the estate administration process are critical to keeping the wolves at bay
Being in lockdown with your family offers probably the best opportunity to update all our personal records, review your estate plan and discuss it with your loved ones. If one of us should get seriously ill, those that we care about should know exactly what to do and where to find the important information.
Although it is traumatic to face the possibility of the infection, illness and even death of any member of your family, it is important that everybody has all the information they need to know and an idea of what plans have been put in place.
Here are some questions you might want to consider:
• How prepared am I with regard to leaving the right information and documents in place for those I would leave behind, such as my spouse and children?”
• Is my will up to date and is it in a safe place and readily accessible if needed?”
• Although my spouse and I are capable of handling matters if the other is no longer around, do we know where to look for all each other’s personal information (such as tax numbers and bank account details) and who to contact at their work or about any policies they have in the event of something catastrophic happening? Do we even each know if the other has an updated will and, if so, where it is kept?”
• What if both my spouse and I contract the virus and are hospitalised or incapacitated or even worse, both die? What then?
In the estate administration process, the first few weeks are critical. Accounts must be paid, debit orders must be met and, perhaps most importantly, liquidity needs to be established to keep the wolves from the door. The only person authorised to attend to these matters in an estate is the executor, but the executor can only do so once officially appointed by the Master of the High Court. And the Master will only make this appointment once all the correct documents and forms are lodged.
With the lockdown restrictions and skeleton staff operating at the Master’s Office, it has become even more important to ensure that exactly the right information is given to the Master as soon as possible to minimise any delay in the appointment of the executor.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the information the Master requires is information that only the family can provide.
Executors ideally would prefer not to approach the family at such a difficult time but we are sometimes desperate to get the information required for the estate to be reported, as we understand how delays of even a few days can cause exponential delays of weeks or even months at the Master's Office.
It is therefore critical for at least one of your loved ones to have access to the right information in the case of a severe illness or incapacity and even more so on your death.
In cases where the family has handed us a file with all the relevant documentation, the estate has been wound up far more quickly and more cost effectively for the family. In such cases the estate can be reported within 24 hours and the executor appointed within record time. Furthermore, where the file contained up-to-date insurance policy schedules, the claims procedure was quicker and easier, with the claims quickly paid out.
For all your estate-planning matters — in particular the proper drafting and execution of wills — it is essential to seek the help and services of a fiduciary professional, ideally a member of the Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa, as its members are bound by a Code of Ethics.
So, stay safe and think seriously about using this time to get your affairs in order and communicate your plans to your family.
• Murphy is as FISA member and director at Legacy Fiduciary Services