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How to draft a will

1 June 2020
5 minute read

Woman sitting and looking out into distance

By 1Life Author

A will is an important document that stipulates who will get your assets after your death. Without a valid will, your assets are distributed according to the law of intestate succession, which might leave your loved ones without access to the funds for months or even years. Here’s what you need to know to draft a legal, valid will, either by yourself or with the help of an expert.

Three important things you need to know before you startWhat is a legal, valid will?
It is a written document with the following details:

  • Your full name and ID number
  • Details of your assets
  • Names of your beneficiaries
  • How you wish to distribute your assets to your beneficiaries
  • Name of the executor – the person responsible for making sure your will is followed

Your will must be signed and dated and witnessed by two individuals. The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of your will.

If, because of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, you cannot sign a will drawn up for you by your attorney or advisor, or the witnesses cannot sign, it is recommended you write down why your will cannot be signed and confirm the will is what you want. As soon as possible, get your will signed.

Naming your beneficiaries
Your beneficiaries are the people you leave your assets, such as your home and money, to. Beneficiaries can include close family members, extended family members, friends and colleagues.

While it is your choice who you name as beneficiaries of your will, there may be legal requirements, such as maintenance agreements for children, that require you to name certain individuals as beneficiaries. If you are responsible for a spouse, parent or child’s care they should be named as beneficiary. If they are not, they may contest the will so they can inherit your assets.

Top tip: You can leave, or bequeath, special items, like a favourite diamond ring, to a specific person. However, if you are married in community of property this could be part of your estate, which means it cannot be left to anyone in particular and may need to be sold.

Naming an executor
You need to name an executor in your will. An executor will make sure your will is followed and your beneficiaries inherit as you have specified. Your executor can be a financial adviser, lawyer, bank or a trusted friend, and they should not be a beneficiary of your will. If they are a beneficiary and stand to inherit, you need to name another executor to work with them who is not a beneficiary. Your executor is paid a fee which you can specify in your will. The fee may not be more than 3.5% of your total assets.

If your estate (the value of your assets less any outstanding debts) is less than R250 000 you don’t need to appoint an executor to distribute your assets. In this case, the Master of the High Court will appoint a representative, for example a family member, to distribute your assets.

Can you draft your will yourself or do you need an expert?It is possible to draw up a will yourself without expert help, but it is only advisable if your financial affairs are straightforward and you don’t have children you care for under the age of 18 or any special needs dependants. A special needs dependant is someone who needs daily assistance with living and cannot make financial decisions on their own.

If you have an extensive property or investment portfolio or have children under the age of 18 or special needs dependants, you should get a professional who is experienced in drafting complex wills to draw up your will.

Children under the age of 18 cannot legally inherit. To make sure your children have access to their inheritance you can set up a trust for your minor children in your will. Trustees, who you should name in your will, administer the trust and use the funds in the trust to care for your children. If you have no will, or don’t set up a trust in your will for your children, your assets will be sold and the proceeds invested in the Guardians Fund, which means your children will have limited access to the funds until they reach 18 years.

If you have a special needs child or care for an adult who cannot care for themselves, you can set up a special trust to make sure they have financial support throughout their life.

Top tip Click here for more on minor beneficiaries, the Guardians Fund and how to set up a trust.

Here’s how you can draw up your willDraft your will yourself
You can download a will template or write out your instructions. Remember your will must be signed and witnessed.

Be as specific as possible to make sure your wishes are followed

You can make it easy to understand by saying you leave all your assets and personal possessions to your beneficiary or beneficiaries, and name your beneficiary in full and give their ID number, but it is advisable to be specific and include:

  • All the details of your assets, such as this property at this address or this investment or savings account with this account number. Use the correct names and descriptions.
  • Details of outstanding debt or loans on your assets, or others such as credit cards, home loans, personal loans, store accounts. You can update this once a year.
  • Instructions on how your outstanding debts can be paid.
  • Exactly how you split your assets among your beneficiaries if there is more than one, such as 50% each or in equal portions.

This makes it easy for the executor to know what your assets are and what you intended to be done with them, and to follow your wishes.

Finally, you need to check your will once a year and update it with any changes.

Use an expert to draft your will
Your financial adviser, attorney, bank or a member of the Fiduciary Institute of South Africa can help you draft a will. There may be a charge, such as an hourly rate for their time.

You can also sign up for Truth About Money’s Wills Benefit and their estate management specialists will draft a will for you and your spouse. Services are available at no charge to successful applicants.

Before you meet with a professional, have a list of assets, your beneficiaries and know how you want to split your assets among your beneficiaries.

Top tip Keep your will safe and let a trusted family member know where it is kept.

A valid will means your loved ones have one less thing to worry aboutLeaving clear instructions on how you would like your assets distributed after your death means your loved ones don’t have to spend extra time sorting out your affairs. It’s one of the gifts we can give after death and shows that we cared for our family and friends not only when we are alive, but also when we are no longer around. Get a will or update your will today!

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