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Here’s how life insurance can safeguard your estate planning needs

Life cover can provide much-needed liquidity to your estate and assist your executor in winding up your estate quicker, says Discovery Life’s Harry Joffe

03 May 2022 - 15:45
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The consequences of not having a valid will or wealth transfer plan in place can be devastating for the family that is left behind.
The consequences of not having a valid will or wealth transfer plan in place can be devastating for the family that is left behind.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Life

When it comes to meeting your estate planning goals and needs, a last will and testament is only one of the components you need. Various other factors are at play in this kind of wealth transfer process and life insurance can be an effective estate planning tool.

Why is estate planning important

In the last quarter of 2021, an estimated 1.3-million SA government employees did not have a last will and testament in place. This accounts for between 80% and 90% of government employees, many of whom are parents and homeowners. In terms of the broader SA society, it has been estimated that between 70% and 75% of South Africans across all employment sectors do not have a will.

This is at the heart of why estate planning is so important.

“People need to understand how important a will is,” says Harry Joffe, head of legal services at Discovery Life.

A will or estate plan is not just for wealthier members of society. Everyone, no matter which income bracket they may fall under, is subject to the same legal processes when they pass away. People with smaller estates in terms of assets often have more complex estates when winding them up".

The consequences of not having a valid will or wealth transfer in place can be devastating for the family that is left behind. It can make things more complex, tax inefficient, costly and more emotionally draining.”

What can happen if you don’t have a will and estate plan

“You forfeit the opportunity to decide who should inherit what and how much. Your estate will be distributed according to the SA law of intestate succession and not per your wishes,” says Joffe. 

Taking that all-important first step

The best place to start is to seek the expertise of a qualified professional. “An attorney who specialises in estates, a trust company or a specialist estates firm is best suited for this difficult and admin-intensive service. Having experts on hand to help you address your needs and structure a holistic estate plan that supports you in the best possible way is an ideal place to get started,” says Joffe. 

Benefits of using life cover as an estate planning tool

Life insurance can provide much-needed liquidity to your estate, while also creating opportunities for you to assist your executor in winding up your estate quicker. One of the primary functions of life cover is to provide financial security and wealth protection (money) to your family and other beneficiaries when you no longer can. It essentially offers cash liquidity through the payment of death, severe illness or disability benefits.

To do this, your plan or policy needs to make your priorities and goals clear and match these to your assets, liabilities, risk tolerance and other financial factors. This creates a strategy that can be highly supportive as an estate planning tool within your broader financial plan.

Some benefits to using your life cover plan to enhance the legacy you leave include:

  • Being able to maximise the real value of your wealth to take the best care of those who matter the most to you.

“One way to do this is to set up a trust, which is a highly effective wealth structuring tool and can be used to address many complex family structures in a fair and beneficial way as long as the correct trustees are in place,” says Joffe.

  • Being able to provide for a spouse while minimising tax burdens.

A spouse as a beneficiary on a life policy avoids estate duty, but does not provide the estate with cash. A balance should be found between leaving assets to a spouse and ensuring sufficient liquidity in the estate.”

  • Being able to secure a legacy in a controlled manner. 

A trust is a great way to set parameters that assert control over how your legacy is used by those you leave behind — especially if one of your goals is to provide for your existing family, as well as future generations. Life cover in specific trusts can help to protect your assets from numerous levels of wealth transfer, and avoid assets being squandered by the heirs,” says Joffe.

“If you have a co-shareholder that is actively involved in your business, you may wish for them to be your successor. You may also want to pass on an equitable inheritance among multiple family members who will continue to run things. You can consider things such as a buy — sell structure and agreement, and key person protection — both use life insurance.”

  • Being able to give back to society and specific causes that hold meaning for you. 

“You can opt to have a specific charity or cause as a beneficiary on your life insurance plan. This way you can use life cover to leave a charitable gift that supports your passion for philanthropy. It’s a lovely way to leave a lasting impact if this means as much to you as ensuring your loved ones are financially secure too, and is also effective for estate duty reduction,” says Joffe.

For more information on the importance of estate planning, tune in to the Discovery Life’s podcast series with Bruce Whitfield.

Discovery Wills and Trust Services, a division of Discovery Central Services (Pty) Limited, a company registered in South Africa with registration number 2016/054628/07 and part of the Discovery group of companies. Discovery Life Limited. Registration number 1966/003901/06, is a licensed life insurer, and an authorised financial services and registered credit provider, NCR Reg No. NCRCP3555. Product rules, terms and conditions apply.

This article was paid for by Discovery Life

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