National Wills Week: What you need to know about your last will and testament

It is important for an individual to possess a will.

It is important for an individual to possess a will.

Published Sep 14, 2023


It is National Wills Week and South Africans can have their last will and testaments drawn up for free.

National Wills Week runs from September 11 until today (Sept 15).

While many may think a will is not important, we will explain just how important it is and why you need to take heed of this opportunity.

What is a will?

A will is a document a person sets out on what should happen to their estate when they die.

An individual can nominate a person or persons, known as executors, to administer their estate at the time of their death.

An individual’s estate consists of all their assets (their belongings and property) and liabilities (their debt) they had at the time of their death.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has urged individuals to keep wills in a safe place where it can easily be found should the testator or testatrix (the person whose will it is) die.

It also said wills do not have to be stored at an attorney’s offices or at trust companies.

What are the requirements for a valid will?

All wills must be in writing. It can be handwritten, typed or printed. The testator/testatrix must sign the will at the end.

Video messages are not accepted as a will.

The signature must be made in the presence of two or more competent witnesses.

The witnesses must attest and sign the will in the presence of the testator/testatrix and of each other.

Who can have a will?

All persons from the age of 16 and over can have a will, unless at the time of making the will the person is mentally incapable of appreciating the consequence of his/her action.

Who can assist in drafting a will?

An individual may draft their own will, but a will is a specialised document and needs to adhere to certain legal formalities for it to be valid so it would be preferable for it to be drawn up by an expert like an attorney, trust company, or bank etc.

Most banks do offer this service to clients, but during National Wills Week the Master’s Offices all have service desks where individuals can be assisted by attorneys to draft their wills free of charge.

Must children be included in your will?

When drafting your will you need to include your children (if you want them to inherit any of your assets), because according to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, if you don’t, it will be deemed that you disinherited your children and your entire estate will go to the heirs you indicated in your will.

Who is considered a spouse?

A spouse is someone with a marriage certificate. Someone who entered a customary valid marriage with or without a certificate.

The department said in case of no certificate, it would be required that proof be given from family members that a customary marriage indeed took place.

A family meeting at department offices will all relevant parties could also be conducted.

What happens if you die without a will?

According to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, if you die without leaving a valid will, your estate will devolve in terms of the rules of intestate success as stipulated in the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act, (Act 81 of 1987).

What does this mean? It means you cannot choose who will get your assets – your heirs are the fixed recipients of your assets, as per the act.

If there is no spouse or descendants and both parents are alive, the parents will inherit the assets in equal shares.

If there is no spouse, no descendants but one parent and siblings, the parent will receive one half of the intestate estate and the siblings the other half.

If there is no spouse, or descendants but one parent and no siblings, the parent will inherit the whole estate.

If there is no spouse, descendants or parents but both parents left siblings, the intestate estate will be split into equal shares.

If there is no spouse, descendants, parents or siblings, the nearest blood relative will inherit the entire intestate estate.

If the deceased is not survived by a relative, the proceeds of the estate will devolve to the State.

In the case of a marriage in community of property, one-half of the estate belongs to the surviving spouse and although it forms part of the joint estate, will not devolve according to the rules of the intestate succession.

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