Covid-19 pandemic sees more South Africans drafting wills

Study shows more people taking care of their financial legacies

Sanlam’s study also showed that in the past 18 months 35% of people updated their wills, while 9% drafted theirs for the first time.
Sanlam’s study also showed that in the past 18 months 35% of people updated their wills, while 9% drafted theirs for the first time.
Image: 123RF / zimmytws

Over 70% of South Africans do not have wills and leave it up to the government to decide how their estate should be distributed once they have died.

However, the presence of Covid-19 has seen at least 44% of economically active South Africans have either amended or created wills in the past 18 months to protect their families when they die, according to a recent Sanlam study.

“The prevalence of South Africans without wills is concerning. What has been positive is that we’re seeing a psychological shift, with different demographics, starting to invest in estate planning. It’s no longer seen as ‘reserved’ for the rich,” said Moremadi Mabule, head of Wills Operations at Sanlam Trust.

According to the department of justice, a will is a document in which a person sets out what must happen to their estate when they die. A person can also nominate the person or persons, known as executors, who should administer their estate after their death. Only a written will is recognised legally, it has to be signed in front of two independent witnesses, in one another’s presence, and in the presence of the person signing the will.

The will must also be dated to ensure that the latest wishes of the deceased are implemented, according to the department. Any person above the age of 16 years can have a will.

Sanlam’s study also showed that in the past 18 months 35% of people updated their wills, while 9% drafted theirs for the first time. Nearly 50% of the first timers came from lower-income groups, suggesting that South Africans from across the economic spectrum are starting to put more consideration into their financial legacies. Even though more than 80% of black, white, and coloured respondents said that Covid-19 had made them more aware of their own mortality and yet only 25% of black respondents and 47% of coloured respondents have wills.

In most instances when a person dies without putting a will in place, it is then up to the government to decide how the deceased’s estate will be distributed to those they left behind. Keneilwe Mabapa, a lawyer who hosted a virtual dialogue on wills during last week’s National Wills Week, said it was not advisable to leave it to the government to decide on one’s estate distribution.

“Leaving it to the government is not necessarily a good thing because it might be that the people who get what you worked hard for are not the people you want to get your inheritance. This week [last week] is so significant because it creates an awareness on what to do about our estates while we are still alive,” said Mabapa.  

George Robertson, director of Galileo Advisory Services, warned that wills should be drafted by a credible executor from a reputable organisation. Will drafting is also done by most major banks.

“The executor has the obligation to report to the Master of the High Court, including providing bank statements of the estate and bank account of the deceased. The Master of the High Court is responsible to ensure that the executor complies with his or her obligations in terms of the act and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries nominated in the will,” he said.

There are a lot of formalities with the drafting and signing of a will to ensure the right organisation to prepare your will. You can change your will at any time by doing a new will and cancelling the existing one, or by amending your existing will by way of a codicil,” said Robertson.

To guard against fraud, it is always a good idea to approach a reputable company that will keep the original copy of your will and family members can receive a copy and the details of the company where the will is kept. Transparency will reduce the risk of fraud or dishonesty. A copy of a will is not deemed valid.

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