Eight tips to avoid anguish when winding up an estate

Three years ago, Chartered client, Karen lost her husband, Peter, to cancer – a life-shattering event after fourteen years of marriage. Three years of difficulties ensued while Peter’s estate was being wound up. Karen says, “I want to pass on to Chartered clients the lessons I learned, so that they will be better prepared than I was.” “It was an unbelievably difficult time for me. We were both previously married and divorced, and in Peter, I had found my ultimate soul-mate. His disease was rapidly progressive and totally devastating. He was just 59 when he was diagnosed.”

To help clients avoid experiencing the same difficulties, Karen shares practical advice in EIGHT tips. Regularly reviewing and, if necessary, revising the contents of your Will ensures that it always accurately reflects your intentions. We had a joint will in which our assets were left to each other. Everything seemed fine until we discovered that the Will no longer reflected our wishes.

We then consulted with Chartered Legacy and Trust to ensure that our Wills were valid and that no legal flaws hindered the winding up process of Peter’s estate. My tip is to get proper legal advice from a recognised expert, as I did with Chartered, before finalising your will. Get guidance when it comes to tricky assets like trusts, business shareholdings and assets held offshore. A proper, legal Will is only the start. In our case, Peter kept things quite close to his chest. He was the money-person in the family; there were so many things that I did not understand or even know about. The rule for husbands (particularly): be totally open with your wives. Take them through the investments, policies, assets; every area must be explained. And do it long before you start having medical issues – with Peter, once he was sick, he was both unable and unwilling to discuss these matters. Winding up an estate is technically complex, frustrating and lengthy, if it has not already been properly set up.

Appoint a competent company as the agent to support you as the executor. But be warned, you will still spend hours signing forms and hunting for documents. It is a long, tedious process. Answer this question: if your spouse died yesterday and all his/her assets were frozen for up to three years, would you have enough cash to live on? Enough said. “I believe that the surviving spouse should wait a while before making important changes like selling the house or moving across the country. In an emotional state, important decisions can easily be wrong. Take your time to recover.” “Peter was young, we were looking forward to a long retirement. He had so many hobbies, things he wanted to do. I know this sounds trite, but I urge people to enjoy their lives today, savour their relationships now. For us, the cancer was a sudden end to our dreams. A key part of this preparation process is also to have a belief system in place. We all die, we just don’t know when.” Tip four: Cash flow Tip five: Don’t rush Tip six: Be prepared (Karen and Peter are pseudonyms to preserve our client’s identity.)

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