Estate planning is the best way to ensure that your loved ones are cared for after you pass away. By creating your estate plans early, and talking to your personal representatives about their roles, you can give yourself, and your family, the benefit of peace of mind.

There is quite a lot that you need to plan for, so I have put together a checklist for you to get started on:

  1. Draft or update your will

Your will is a legal document with details on how your assets will be distributed and your beneficiaries provided for. Everyone should have a will. If you don’t have one, you need to draw one up.

Important information in a will:

Make sure your will is signed and witnessed correctly.

Name your beneficiaries, specify what they will inherit and any special bequests and gifts.

Name the executor and include details of their fees. The executor makes sure your will is implemented and they are paid a fee for this.

Give details on how your minor children and dependents will be cared for. You can set up a trust in your will that will manage inheritances on behalf of minor children, so they are provided for financially. Your will should also name the guardian or guardians who will be responsible for caring for your children.

Remember to tell your family where your will is kept and how they can contact the executor.

2. List the documents that will be needed and where they can be found

Your family and beneficiaries will need to give these documents to the executor, so keep them in one place if they are available. Make a note which other documents your family will need and where they can be found – (either paper copies or digital files).

  • Your ID and passport
  • Beneficiary IDs and contact details
  • ID copies and contact details of trustees and guardians
  • Marriage certificate of spouses and beneficiaries – this can affect how we inherit, for example, if a couple is married in or out of community of property
  • Retirement savings documents including any retirement annuities and pension funds
  • Medical aid membership details
  • Investments
  • Bank, credit card and loan account details

3. Make provision for important debit orders

Bank accounts are frozen when a person dies, so if debit orders such as your home loan or medical aid are deducted from your bank account, you need to make provision for these to be paid from another account or have a small cash fund to keep the family running.

Your executor will assist with this, but because the executor’s appointment has to be approved by the Master of the High Court, make sure there are enough funds for living expenses for at least a month.

4. Draw up a wishlist

You may have small items like jewelry or books that you specifically want to leave to someone. You can do this in your will or you can draw up a wish list which you should keep with your will.

5. Give instructions for your digital life

When you start getting your estate in order, you’ll quickly realize how much of your life is digital. I’ve identified three areas to focus on and plan for in your digital will – email accounts, online profiles and social media accounts, and financial matters.

Email accounts
When you are deciding what should happen to your email account you need to know what kind of information is in the account. If email accounts are used to receive bank statements you need to make sure there is access, so these can be retrieved before the account is deleted. If the accounts are purely personal you can request them to be deleted when you die.

Online profiles
These can be anything from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to other forums. List the sites you belong to, any subscription fees and sign in details, and if these accounts should be deleted when you are no longer around.

Financial matters 
Make a list of your online banking, any online shopping profiles or apps, online investment accounts, internet and cellphone contracts. Give details of sign ins where necessary, and details of any contracts and how they should be dealt with.

A quick note on passwords and pin numbers
Passwords and sign in details are confidential. You need to keep these safe, so they can only be used when your accounts and profiles need to be closed. If you don’t feel comfortable listing these, set up and encrypt a file and leave details of how this can be accessed in your will. Don’t forget to give the computer password so the file can be accessed.

6.Appointing an executor

Lastly, you will appoint an executor.

An executor is responsible for winding up your estate and making sure your wishes are followed through. Banks, Accountants and Lawyers often act as executors.

Please note that this list is not intended to be legal advice or completely comprehensive; it is to provide helpful information to guide you through estate planning. Some estates, situations, business arrangements, personal affairs, and local laws will require more or less. I hope this list helps you get started!

For any questions on this estate planning checklist, leave a comment below.

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