Deceased’s will declared invalid, despite clear wishes

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The Wills Act sets out the requirements for a valid Last Will and Testament. For a will to be valid, it must be signed and witnessed. What happens if the wishes of the deceased are clear, but the document does not meet the requirements of a valid will?

This was the heart of the matter in Estate Late Elaine Ilsia Williams and Others v Hendricks and Another, heard in the Western Cape High Court.

In this matter, the close relations of the deceased sought an order directing the Master of the High Court to accept as a will for the purposes of the Administration of Estates Act, a pro forma document signed by the deceased in which she gave instructions to a bank to draft her Last Will and Testament.

The nature of the bank document was consistent with its printed title, “Will Application/Aansoek om testament.” It is apparent from the terms of the document that the bank offers a service for the drafting of wills. The service is provided free of charge if the bank’s trustee company is nominated as the executor.

The deceased’s instructions to the bank in respect of the content of the will were framed as follows: “I would like to give my full estate to my son until he is of age as well as any other monetary payouts as a result of any claims.” It would appear that the deceased also wished her will to provide that the bequest to her son should be administered in a trust until the child attained the age of 21.

The will application form was completed by the deceased with the assistance of a representative of the bank on the day before she died. She was terminally ill with cancer at the time. The deceased passed away before her instructions for the drafting of a will were executed.

The applicants relied on Section 2(3) of the Wills Act: “If a court is satisfied that a document or the amendment of a document drafted or executed by a person who has died since the drafting or execution thereof, was intended to be his will or an amendment of his will, the court shall order the Master to accept that document, or that document as amended, for the purposes of the Administration of Estates Act, 1965 (Act 66 of 1965), as a will, although it does not comply with all the formalities for the execution or amendment of wills referred to in subsection (1).”

As is evident from the wording of Section 2(3) of the Wills Act, it is required of an applicant seeking an order of the sort contemplated by the provision to establish, amongst other things, that the document in question was intended by the deceased person to be his or her will. It is in that regard that the application runs into difficulty on the merits. Nothing specifically indicates that the deceased intended the document to be anything other than what it appears to be – an instruction to the bank to draft a will.

The court held that there was no evidence that the deceased intended the will application to be anything other than an application for a proper will to be drafted. Therefore, the applicants failed to prove the requirement that the deceased intended the document to be her last will and testament, as required by Section 2(3) of the Wills Act.

Courts are wary to declare documents that do not comply with the requirements of the Wills Act as valid wills. It is advisable to obtain professional assistance from an attorney or a fiduciary expert with the drafting of your Last Will and Testament.

Reference List:

  • Wills Act 7 of 1953
  • Estate Late Elaine Ilsia Williams and Others v Hendricks and Another [2021] ZAWCHC 66

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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