I gave instructions to my attorney to prepare a Will for me as my most recent Will no longer reflected my wishes. My attorney emailed the Will to me with clear instructions as to how I should go about signing the Will. I asked my neighbours to act and sign as witnesses. My neighbours signed the Will on all the pages and left before I signed the Will on all the pages. I am now worried about the validity of my Will as the email from my attorney states that I have to sign the Will in the presence of two witnesses. Is my Will valid?
The formalities for the valid execution of a Will are set out in the Wills Act. Section 2 of the Wills Act, Act 7 of 1953, reads: “No will executed… shall be valid unless the will is signed at the end thereof by the testator… and such signature is made by the testator… in the presence of two or more competent witnesses present at the same time and such witnesses attest and sign the will in the presence of the testator and of each other…”. Therefore, for a Will to be valid, it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, both witnesses being present when the Will is signed by the testator.
The two witnesses signed your Will in the presence of each other, but not in your presence. A similiar set of facts presented itself in a court case heard by the Gauteng Local Division of the High Court. In this matter the two daughters of the deceased, who lost out on their inheritance in terms of the Will of their father, claimed that it was never their father’s intention for his much younger lover to inherit his total estate. The testator was 85 years old at the time of his death and he had been living with a woman 38 years his junior, for 8 years.
The deceased executed two Wills during his lifetime. One on 6 November 2011 (“the 2011 Will”) and another on 7 January 2014 (“the 2014 Will”). The 2014 Will was signed shortly before his death, leaving the bulk of his estate to his much younger lover.
One of the witnesses called to testify in court was a witness to the 2014 Will. Her testimony focused on the circumstances surrounding the signing of the 2014 Will. She testified that she and her husband met the deceased in the street. As they were acquainted, they engaged in social conversation. She and her husband were informed that the deceased was on his way to the police station to sign a Will. She and her husband were asked if they would accompany the deceased to sign the Will as witnesses. They were assured that the process would not take long so they agreed to assist.
She and her husband signed the Will and immediately left before witnessing the deceased signing the will. Hence, the 2014 Will was not signed by the deceased in their presence even though it reflects their respective signatures as witnesses.
The evidence assessed collectively established that the deceased signed the 2011 Will and that he signed the 2014 Will. However, the 2014 Will was signed by the deceased after the two witnesses to the Will had already left and therefore was signed in their absence.
The court referred to Section 2 of the Wills Act, in terms whereof no Will is valid unless the signature made by the testator is made “in the presence of two or more competent witnesses present at the same time”. The court confirmed that this requirement is mandatory and, if not met, the Will is not valid for want of compliance with a statutorily required formality.
The court therefore found the 2014 Will to be invalid and, as there was no evidence that there was any irregularity in the execution of the 2011 Will, the 2011 Will was declared the Will of the deceased.
This judgement of the High Court once again emphasizes the importance of complying with the Wills Act. Your Will is thus invalid and it is advisable for you to print the Will again and to sign it in the presence of two competent witnesses or, even better, for you to make an appointment with your attorney in order to sign the Will at his office.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as 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 adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).