Have you been divorced or widowed recently? Have you bought a property? Have you been living with your partner for some time? Do a number of people depend on you financially? If so, you should have a legally sound will to ensure that there won’t be competing claims on your estate when you die.

As has been the case for the past few years, you can have a basic will drafted by an attorney free of charge during National Wills Week, which runs from Monday to Friday next week (September 11 to 15). Law firms throughout the country will participate in National Wills Week.

Having a valid will can protect the interests of your loved ones, and ensure there will not be a delay in settling your estate after your death, say Law Society of South Africa co-chairpersons David Bekker and Walid Brown. 

“It also ensures that your executor will act according to your wishes, as set out in your will. A valid will allows you to state who should inherit your assets and property, to appoint an executor of your choice for your estate and a guardian for your minor children,” Bekker and Brown say.

Next week, participating attorneys will display posters with their contact details so that you can make an appointment with one in your area. The contact details and addresses of all participating attorneys are on the Law Society’s website, www.lssa.org.za.

Why should an attorney draft your will? 

An attorney has the knowledge and expertise to ensure that your will complies with your wishes and that it is valid, because it complies with the Wills Act, the Law Society says.

Often, a will is not valid because it does not meet all the requirements of the Wills Act. These include that the will must be in writing, signed by the testator in the presence of at least two competent witnesses, and signed by the witnesses.

An attorney can advise you on any problems that may arise with your will and assist your executor. 

What happens if you die without a valid will? 

If you die without leaving a valid will, your assets will be distributed according to the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act. These provisions are generally fair and ensure that your possessions are transferred to your spouse and children, and, where applicable, to your siblings and parents, and, if required, to your extended family in terms of degrees of relationship.

However, the Law Society says, the following problems may arise:

• Your assets may not be left to the person of your choice.

• It can take longer to have an executor appointed. The executor who is appointed may be someone you may not have chosen yourself.

• There could be extra and unnecessary costs.

• There could be conflict among members of your family, because there are no clear instructions on how to distribute your assets.