Requirements of a valid will In South Africa

Rummaging for a valid will

When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, my mom had to rummage through all her things to find her will and testament. The will they found between her wasn’t signed. Imagine now that the government will distribute your belongings according to their ”legal” preference (Intestate Succession Act, 1987 (Act 81 of 1987). This could take a long time to resolve, add additional costs and could be very traumatic!

Lucky for us, we found an older will that was signed, dated and compiled with all the legal requirements. 

Whether we want to know it or not, we will all die.

To make sure that our belongings are distributed as we want, we need to have some paperwork in place that adhere to legal requirements.  

I don’t want to rewrite my article about estate planning here, but want to focus on legal requirements and the validity of a will and testament.

Your will and testament

If you don’t know about a will – think of it as your last wishes and to whom you will give your final belongings, your last wishes and anything you want people to know.

You cannot rule from the grave, but you do have a say in who gets what, final letters to people and who should inherit your coffee machine. You can specify for example, that your estate goes into a trust and on your child’s 25th birthday, the money becomes available.

Remember that it is your responsibility to update your will – you don’t want your ex to inherit all your riches! 

Big words you should know

As an overview, here are some big words that people use – so that you know what they’re talking about:

  • The “deceased” – that’s the person who died
  • Estate – everything that the deceased owned
  • Executor – the person responsible for doing all the duties to wrap up the estate, i.e. do all the admin.
  • Testator/testatrix – the person who drew up the testament before his death

What is required to make a will legal

For a will to be legal and acceptable, it needs to align with the Wills Act 7 of 1953 (applied to any testator who died on/after 1 October 1992). In the act, it doesn’t require the will to be in writing, but refers to ‘document’ and ‘signed’ – thus meaning you need it in some form of a document in writing. Confusing, right?

Let’s just do it right, then we know all is sorted.

Here is an overview of the most important requirements:

  • The will needs to be signed by the testator/testatrix at the end of the document, as opposed to the bottom of every page – see reference here. It must also be signed on every page, if longer than one page. Just sign it everywhere!
  • The will needs to be signed by two competent witnesses at the end of the document. I have seen wills that get signed on every page by the witnesses and feel this is an extra layer of safety. There are some restrictions on witnesses:
    • They need to be over the age of 14
    • Witnesses cannot receive any inheritance from the estate – so don’t choose a spouse as a witness
  • As you might have figured, signatures are important. In the case where the testator cannot sign, the law allows for fingerprints or, in some cases, someone signing on his behalf. Please seek legal advice here! 

Practical recommendations

Though the following will not meet all legal requirements, it is highly recommended that you do the following:

  • Date your will – you do not want to be found with 3 wills, each with different allocations and people fighting about who gets the expensive coffee beans
  • Make sure the will is clear, readable and well formulated – it can be hand written or printed
  • Number the pages – you want to make sure everything is covered.


Having a legal will and testament is vital in this day and age. You don’t want your ex to inherit your world or your barista that you haven’t seen in 20 years. 

Make sure that your will is signed and that you have it accessible to the people close to you in case you die unexpectedly.

Sign everything. Everywhere. And make sure you get legal advice about your will.

Happy investing!

Sources consulted

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