I first penned an article in 2011 on the topic of “Information” and, some 9 years later while we are all in the midst of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 epidemic, I thought it best to revisit the topic and get all of us thinking about it again. At a time when most families are sitting at home together, we can see it as an opportunity to update all our personal records, review our Estate Plan and discuss it with our 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.
I personally sat down with my family over the weekend and, although it could have been traumatic to face the possibility of the infection, illness and even death of any one of us, it was important that everybody had all the information they needed to know and an idea of what plans I had in place.
The questions that I had to consider included:
“How prepared am I with regard to leaving the right information and documents in place for those I could leave behind, my wife and young daughters?”
“Is my Will up to date and is it in a safe place and readily accessible if needed?”
“Although my wife 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 wife and I contract the virus and are hospitalised or incapacitated or even worse, both pass away? What then?”
Having access to the right information is vital in the case of the severe illness or incapacity of a loved one and even more so on their death. 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 current restrictions in place 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.
The truth is that when someone passes away the last thing the family should be worried about is collecting papers, sorting through files, searching for passwords and combinations etc.. They want to start the grieving and healing process and that is the way it should be. Their energies must be spent on this process while the energies of the Executor should be spent on commencing the administration of the estate. Unfortunately, in most cases, the information the Master requires is information which only the family can provide. At Legacy we 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 can be a vicious cycle, as once the family is ready to deal with the legal formalities, valuable time has been lost and the estate administration process, and its ultimate completion, have been delayed.
On the other hand, in situations where we have all the required information at hand, the reporting of an estate can take place within, literally, a matter of hours. I can personally testify that where the family has handed us a file containing all the relevant documentation, the estate has been wound up far more quickly and more cost effectively for the family. On every single such occasion the estate was 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 of those policies was quicker and easier and the claims quickly paid out.
At Legacy, we are constantly innovating to assist our clients help those they leave behind and to leave that lasting legacy that we all pray for. One such innovation is our “Personal Estate Document” which is available to download from our website or, if you request, we can send it to you by email or in a hard copy. The Personal Estate Document is a simple but powerful document designed for the purpose of assisting the family in the case of any such emergency. The Personal Estate Document lists all the information required when winding up an estate and you can either fill in all the required information in the electronic copy and email a copy to us or fill it out by hand in the hard copy and drop off a copy with us to be stored with your Will. Once completed, the Personal Estate Document can be placed in a file with certified copies of your important documentation e.g. Identity Document, Passport, Marriage Certificate, Title Deeds, Trust Deeds and Wills. You even need not use our Personal Estate Document but can simply create your own using it as a guide and compile a similar file with all your important information and documentation in it. Just make sure that your family knows where it is in the house, how to get it and who to give it to.
As a rule, we advise that your Personal Estate Document should be taken out, dusted off and updated annually to take into account any changes in your advisors, investments or status.
We believe so strongly that the Personal Estate Document will simplify the administration of any estate that we give it away for free.
So, while many of us are at home trying to keep busy during the lockdown, why not take the time to update and inform. Update the information in your file or Personal Estate Document and inform your loved ones of what and where and how. Have a discussion about what needs to be done IF something happens. My family discussion certainly went much better than I feared as it turned out these issues were on everyone’s minds and it was actually a relief for everyone to discuss their fears and to be assured that there was a plan in place.
Be safe, stay indoors and keep sane.
Director, Senior Deceased Estate Administrator, Wills & Estate Planning