Insights

The importance of a professionally drafted last will and testament in South Africa

by | May 31, 2024 | Advisory Services | 0 comments

A last will and testament is a legal document that outlines an individual’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and the care of any minor children after their death. In South Africa, the importance of having a professionally drafted last will and testament cannot be overstated. However, there are a myriad of court cases related to the interpretation, signing and validity of this extremely important document.  

Here are key reasons why a professionally drafted will is essential:

Legal Validity and Compliance

South African law requires that a will meet specific formalities to be legally valid. According to the Wills Act No. 7 of 1953, a will must be in writing, signed at the end by the testator (the person making the will), and witnessed by at least two competent witnesses who are present at the same time. A professionally drafted will ensures compliance with these legal requirements, reducing the risk of the will being declared invalid by a court.

Clear and Unambiguous Terms

Legal language can be complex and nuanced. A professionally drafted will ensures that the language used is clear, precise, and free from ambiguity. This clarity prevents misunderstandings and disputes among beneficiaries, which can arise from poorly drafted documents.

Comprehensive Coverage of Assets and Wishes

A professional estate planner considers all the testator’s assets, including property, investments, personal belongings, and digital assets. It also covers specific wishes regarding the care of minor children, appointment of guardians, and special bequests. Professionals can provide guidance on how to structure these provisions to ensure they are legally enforceable and reflect the testator’s intentions accurately. Professional estate planners are trained to anticipate potential areas of confusion and address them effectively.

Tax Efficiency and Estate Planning

Estate planning is a complex process that involves more than just drafting a will. Professionals can offer advice on how to structure the will to minimise estate taxes and other liabilities, ensuring that more of the estate’s value is passed on to the beneficiaries. They can also integrate the will with other estate planning tools, such as trusts, to provide additional benefits and protections.

Updating and Reviewing the Will

Life circumstances change, and a will should be updated periodically to reflect these changes. A professional can assist in reminding and updating the will to ensure it remains relevant and effective. Major life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or significant changes in asset structure necessitate updates to the will.

Appointment of a Competent Executor / Trustees

A will must appoint an executor to administer the estate and trustees if a testamentary trust is required. These roles involve significant legal, compliance and financial responsibilities. A professional can provide advice on selecting a competent and trustworthy executor, and in some cases, professionals themselves may serve as executors or trustees to ensure the estate is administered efficiently and impartially according to the will’s provisions.

Conclusion

In South Africa, as elsewhere, the importance of a professionally drafted last will and testament cannot be overstated. It ensures legal validity, clarity, comprehensive coverage of assets and wishes, minimises disputes and litigation, optimises tax efficiency, facilitates updates, appoints competent executors, and trustees, and provides peace of mind.

By engaging the services of Sentinel International Will and Estate Planning professionals we are not only able to draft and periodically review your will, we can also ensure that your final wishes are honoured in the most tax and legally efficient way, thereby securing a legacy of care and consideration.

Author: Ricky Opperman-Knipe