Planning for death: File your life - today, not tomorrow

Our world is vastly different – more so than most could have imagined before this pandemic. We face a stark reality – increased deaths and uncertain futures; the stress of the unknown, compounded by an ever-changing financial landscape. Despite these realities, the national lockdown, and increased time at home, provides an opportunity – an opportunity to compile a “life file” to facilitate the administration of your deceased estate.

15 Feb 2021 4 min read Trusts & Estates Alert Article

At a glance

  • A life file is a collection of important documents and information that facilitates the administration of your estate after your death.
  • It includes personal information, such as contact details and next-of-kin, as well as financial information like bank accounts and investments.
  • Medical information, burial or cremation wishes, and other arrangements can also be included in a life file to provide guidance to your loved ones. Regular updates and physical copies are recommended for its effectiveness.

Many have decided to update (or for the first time execute) their last will and testament. Yet, the concept of a life file remains understated to some, and entirely foreign to others.

Filing for a purpose

The principal purpose of a life file is to ensure that all necessary documentation is on hand for the proper administration of your deceased estate. A life file complements your last will and testament and should be stored therewith or made accessible to your next-of-kin or executor.

The creation of a life file not only simplifies the period after your death, it also eliminates a frenzied search for crucial documents. It creates order. Peace of mind.

Ultimately, your next-of-kin and executor will benefit from the structure you have realised through the creation of a life file. Additionally, you will feel empowered. Consolidation of your information will leave you feeling informed and in control.

What to include

Below is a high-level overview of the proposed contents of your life file. Annexed to this alert is a checklist which you are welcome to print and use in the compilation of your own life file.

Personal information

Whilst basic information such as your full names, date of birth, marital status and residential address should be included, more sensitive information, like your tax number, next-of-kin, beneficiary and spousal contact details should also be included. List your dependents and their contact details. Include a copy of your last will and testament and indicate the location of the original one. Also provide your executor’s contact details.

Importantly, consider what necessary practical information is typically outside others’ reach – for example, the password to your mobile phone. Perhaps consider including the details of your house alarm codes, access to safety deposit boxes, and the location of any special keys.

An important addition to your personal information is a curated contact list. Consider listing your doctor, attorney, accountant, financial advisor and banker’s details in addition to those of your next-of-kin.

Financial information

Consolidating your financial information is crucial. Your executor will require this information in order to properly administer your estate and deal with your assets and liabilities.

By listing each financial investment, product, policy, and the like, you facilitate the process. Consider also including information such as your bank account details and offshore investments. Naturally, include access and contact information. Do not neglect your insurances or licenses, credit accounts and subscriptions – include passwords and usernames for each. If you have debit orders, list them. Any interest in business ventures, trusts, stockvels, or the like should be sufficiently detailed. Lastly, if you have an interest in any incorporeal assets, such as a usufruct, detail this too. Ultimately, any aspect of value (both positive and negative) should be recorded. To stay abreast, set an annual reminder. On this date every year you can print updated copies of the relevant information, be it statements, certificates, or investment information.

In the instance of offshore assets, consider details surrounding how such assets were acquired, when they were acquired, and whether South African Reserve Bank approval (if necessary) has been obtained. Remember to include proof thereof.


It is useful to cross-reference each item mentioned above with a document – for example, an ID, marriage certificate, bank statement, statement of account or investment summary. The documents may be revised annually to ensure that they are up to date.

Certain documents are required in order for your deceased estate to be reported to the Master of the High Court. It is also necessary that an approximate value be afforded to your estate – the statements will be useful in this regard.

In addition

Of course, your life file can go further and include certain details which are necessary should you be incapacitated. Some information may also be necessary just after your death, but prior to the period when your estate is administered.  

Medical information

Along with the contact details mentioned above, consider pertinent medical information. Are there emergency pre-authorisation numbers? Are you an organ donor? What medical aid do you have? Include details related to gap cover as well as your living will (if you have one).

Go one step further and include details related to any allergies or medical conditions; anything that your doctor needs to know.


If your last will and testament does not contain your wishes around burial or cremation, it is prudent to lay out your instructions in your life file. Lay out as much detail as you deem appropriate. For example, where would you like your ashes to be spread? How should the ceremony be conducted?

Any further wishes or arrangements that you want to be actioned should be noted here. For example, what should happen to your email or social media accounts upon your death? If your pets need special care, detail this in your life file.

Before you lock the cabinet

Due to the dynamic nature thereof, your life file is a work in progress. You need to update it. Continually. Set an annual reminder for yourself to review your life file.

Also, whilst digital life files are convenient, electronic copies (even certified electronic copies) are not accepted for administration purposes (in particular reporting the estate to the Master of the High Court). You are encouraged to keep a physical file with certified hard-copies anywhere that is convenient. Perhaps hand a copy to your executor for safekeeping.

By compiling and maintaining a life file, you facilitate the administration of your estate. You minimize the stress on your next-of-kin and your executor can initiate proceedings sooner. Be proactive. Compile a life file today.

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