It is imperative to amend or update your Will to accommodate changes in financial or family circumstances. However, all too often people make impulsive changes to their Wills, either out of anger, or on a momentary whim.
According to Peter Prentice, a specialist consultant in Estate Planning and Administration for audit, advisory and tax firm, BDO South Africa, this is something he sees often and unfortunately it can lead to a legacy of family division which no amount of money or compensation will heal.
“A person will be remembered by the legacy he leaves. I refer to legacy in the broader sense, not merely Rands and Cents. Your Will is your last word to your loved ones and probably the first document read by them after your death. It is therefore important to straighten out issues prior to death. Hurtful terms in a Will should be avoided – and certainly do not try and win an argument by having the last word in your Will.”
“Be cautious about including clauses in your Will which will put your assets under the control of someone who does not have your family interests at heart,” says Prentice. “Also, do not try and impose unnecessary terms restricting access to income or capital.”
An example where a will written in anger can cause more trouble than its worth is that of billionaire Revlon Chairman Ronald Perelman. His ex-father-in-law Robert Cohen claimed that Perelman had promised half his extensive fortune to Claudia Cohen, Perelman’s other ex-wife, who had passed away and whose estate Perelman controls. Despite clear instructions in Claudia’s will to preserve the relationship between their daughter and the Cohen family, Perelman launched a series of vicious lawsuits that pitted them against each other. Perelman has lost on every claim, but vows to appeal in spite of the millions in legal fees he has already spent from Claudia’s estate.
The only reason Perelman could cause so much trouble was because Claudia Cohen named him as executor of her estate. Choose wisely when naming your executor or trustee or your family may literally pay the price!
Prentice goes on to advise that although a Will is a serious document it is perfectly in order to personalise a Will. It does after all reflect the testators’ character and personality.
An amusing clause in a client’s Will drafted in 1985 read as follows: To the rest of my workers, in my employ at the time of my death, I bequeath the sum of R10.00 (TEN RAND) each so that they may rejoice and celebrate my departure as I rejoice and celebrate departing from them.
“So, I would suggest that you re-look at your Will and decide if what is written is still relevant and reflects the way in which you wish to be remembered,” concludes Prentice.