Be cautious of executors and institutions who write wills for free

There are executors and institutions out there offering to write people’s will for free.

While having your will recorded is of course highly important, I encourage you not to nominate and appoint an executor on your will simply because they offer you this one service for free. Your executor is going to play an important role in your family’s life when you’re gone, and has an important responsibility of trust to play, so it’s vital that you choose this individual with thought and care.

Nothing in business is truly free

How many professionals do you know who offer their time and expertise for free? Would you trust a doctor offering to diagnose patients for free?

Usually, something that is said to be free comes with a caveat, such as inflated prices elsewhere, or an obligation to further services.

So, it should give you pause whenever a professional says they’re offering a service for free, and you should ask yourself: why is this service free?

My belief is that executors and institutions who offer to write free wills are using the service as a doorway to becoming your executor. They’re angling to obtain your business which they might not otherwise be qualified or competitive enough to earn. 

A properly qualified executor is someone capable of looking after your estate and also providing your grieving loved ones with clarity about the process ahead. Knowing that an estate is being properly managed, and according to your wishes, offers family members comfort and a degree of peace in the midst of a major and painful upheaval in life.

Questions to help you choose an executor

Here are five important questions to work through before appointing an executor and signing your will:

Question 1: Who is the person who will execute your will?

With large companies, it sometimes isn’t clear who the actual individual is that will be executing your will. I believe it’s important to meet and know the person who will be your executor. You naturally want the very best for your loved ones, and so you want to meet, talk with and vet the person whom you’re going to assign this important role in your lives.

Meeting with a potential executor before making your choice is also a really good idea because you can get a feel for the person and their manner. They’re going to be interacting with your family during the grieving period, and so you want someone who has compassion and gentle touch, as well as someone who is able to explain things clearly and concisely.

Question 2: Is the executor registered with a governing body?

Most of us can’t, of course, figure out for ourselves if an executor is actually capable of the job of executing an estate. This is why governing bodies are so important – they provide accreditations that let us know which practices are actually legitimate.

Ask any prospective executor to show you their registration with a fiduciary governing body.

The Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa (FISA), for instance, has minimum professional requirements to be a member, and so you can know that an executor registered with FISA should be okay for you to use.

That said, a Fiduciary Practitioner of South Africa (FPSA®) designation is quickly becoming the gold standard within the fiduciary field in South Africa. Any executor registered with FISA and who has an FPSA® designation is therefore a good option for your peace of mind.

One key reason to ensure you elect a properly qualified executor is the fact that the Master of the High Court will likely, when the time comes, ask your chosen executor if they are qualified to administer your estate and if they are not, the Master will insist an adequately qualified executor take over. This will lead to unnecessary pressure and delays.

Question 3: Is the person a full-time executor?

In recent years, the processes required to successfully administer an estate in South Africa have become a lot more technical and challenging. With this in mind, please ensure that your potential executor is doing this job full-time, and it’s not just a side hustle.

I say this because if your executor does the administration of deceased estates on the side, you risk delays in your administration process. There’s also a good chance that they won’t be timely and thorough in providing your family with feedback and updates.

Question 4: Does the executor have professional indemnity insurance?

Any sensible and reputable executor covers their practice by taking our professional indemnity insurance. Ask a potential executor about this – any truly professional executor will be happy to show proof of their indemnity insurance to you.

The reason indemnity insurance is so important is that your executor will have control of all your assets and liquid cash during the administration of your estate and if something untoward happens (they fall victim to cyber fraud, for example, or incorrectly pay for an invoice) then this insurance will cover these mistakes. This means your hard-earned money faces little risk during the administration of your estate, and your beneficiaries receive the full amount owing to them at the end of the administration process

Question 5: Does the executor have a good reputation?

Before appointing anyone in a role of importance in your life, you should do some due diligence. This is especially the case with the executor of your estate.

I encourage you to do a background check on any executor you’re considering using to ensure they have a track record of being both professional and caring. A reputable executor should be searchable on the internet – look for independently verified online reviews and if there aren’t any, this should raise a red flag.

Introduce your executor to your family

Finally, I believe it’s a good idea to introduce your spouse or someone else in the family to your executor, as that way there’s already a connection established when the time comes for them to deal with your passing. It takes, on average, 10 to 16 months to administer an estate in South Africa, so your executor will be a part of your loved ones’ lives for quite some time.

Contact us

I hope you find the above questions helpful in guiding you in choosing an executor. Again, I encourage you not to be swayed to appoint an executor just because they offer a free will writing service. Rather ask the questions outlined above so that you can have peace of mind that you’re electing a qualified and caring professional to this important role.

If you need a new will drafter and would like to form part of the Marsh Fidelity community, or simply need advice, please feel free to reach out to us on [email protected] or phone me on 082-839-6160.

We look forward to starting this journey together with you and your family!

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