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I gave instructions to my attorney to prepare a last will and testament for me as my will no longer reflected my wishes. At my request, my attorney emailed the will to me with clear instructions as to how I should go about signing it. I asked my neighbours to act and sign as witnesses. My neighbours signed the will on all the pages and left before I signed. I then 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, in order for a will to be valid, it has to be signed in the presence of two independent 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 similar set of facts presented itself in a court case recently 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. The daughters of the deceased claimed the 2014 will was invalid as there were “suspicious” circumstances. They claimed their father either did not sign the 2014 will himself or, if he did, that he lacked the mental capacity to execute a valid will by reason of dementia. The daughters of the deceased were not successful in proving that the deceased’s signature was a forgery despite the fact that three handwriting experts testified.

Another witness called to testify was a witness to the 2014 will. Her testimony focused on the circumstances surrounding the signing of the 2014 will. She signed the will as a witness. She testified that she and her husband met the deceased in the street. As they were acquainted they naturally 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 in order 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. They were the first to sign the will. At the time they signed the will the deceased had not signed the will. They 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 also 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 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.

Reference List:

  • Twine and Another v Naidoo and Another [2017] ZAGPJHC 288; [2018] 1 All SA 297 (GJ)
  • Wills Act, Act 7 of 1953

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.

Jan Fourie

Director |  Attorney, Notary & Conveyancer | BA. LLB

Jan graduated in 1974 with a five-year BA LLB degree from the University of Stellenbosch, whereafter he was admitted as an advocate and prosecuted as such in the Cape Town and Wynberg Courts. In 1974, he joined Swemmer & Levin as the Candidate Attorney of Mr Levin (founding member) and was admitted as an attorney on 7 April 1976, as a conveyancer on 11 January 1978, and as a Notary on 19 December 1984. Since 1974, he has served in various committees, including the West Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Vredenburg School Committee, and the Malgas Lions Club. 

Furthermore, Jan was the author of the first bilingual law book, The New Debt Collecting Procedures (Die Nuwe Skuldinvorderingsprosedures), which was used by all the Magistrate Courts throughout South Africa. With the founding of the Small Claims Court in Vredenburg, Jan served as one of the first Commissioners. He is currently based at Swemmer & Levin’s Vredenburg office and has been with our firm for more than 47 years.

Pieter Smit

Director | Attorney & Conveyancer | BA. LLB

Pieter obtained his BA Law degree from Stellenbosch University in 1995 and his LLB degree from the North-West University in Potchefstroom in 1998. He served his articles at Marais Muller Attorneys from 1998 to 1999 and was admitted as an attorney in 2000 and as a conveyancer in 2002. Pieter is the founder of PP Smit Attorneys, which opened its doors in 2004. He also became a director of Swemmer & Levin in 2006. Pieter loves the outdoors and participating in all forms of sport, including tennis, golf, fishing, spearfishing, scuba diving, and hiking. 

Johann Maree

Director | Attorney | BA. LLB

Johann matriculated at Oudtshoorn High School and attended Stellenbosch University, where he obtained his BA Law and LLB degrees. Following his studies, he worked for three years as State Prosecutor at the Magistrate’s Court in Cape Town. Johann completed his legal training with the State Attorney in Pretoria and then moved to his hometown, Oudtshoorn, where he worked as a lawyer for a year. In 1983, he finally moved to Vredenburg and joined Swemmer & Levin, where he is still practising as a director. When he is not in the office, Johann enjoys cycling and in his earlier days, he used to be a long-distance junkie.

Richard Phillips

Director | Attorney | Bcom & BProc

After matriculating at Paarl Boys’ High School, Richard completed his BCom and BProc degrees at the University of Port Elizabeth. He served his articles with Van Wyk Fouchee in Paarl and quickly developed an affinity for litigation. Richard has always had a deep love for the ocean and when he was presented with an opportunity to join Swemmer & Levin on the West Coast, he agreed without hesitation and has been with our firm since 1997. Richard specialises in general litigation and divorces. When he is not in the office or with his family, he tries to spend as much time as possible in or on the water.

Jandré Smith

Director | Attorney | LLB

Jandré grew up and matriculated in the small Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn. He furthered his studies at the North-West University in Potchefstroom, obtaining his LLB degree during 2015. He completed his articles at Swemmer & Levin in 2017 and was subsequently appointed as a professional assistant. In 2020, Jandré was promoted to the position of director at the firm, where he practises in the Litigation department at our Langebaan office. When not practising law, Jandré is an avid sports fan. He has a passion for nature and enjoys camping, trail running, and mountain biking with his family.

Andre van der Walt

Director | Attorney | LLB

Andre graduated in 2015 with an LLB degree from the University of Pretoria. He later went on to obtain his NQF 7 Certificate in the Administration of Deceased Estates from the University of South Africa, which allowed him to further his career in deceased estates and the drafting of wills and trusts. Andre served his articles at Barnard & Patel Attorneys under the supervision of Mr YAS Patel. After being admitted as an attorney in 2016, he continued working at Barnard & Patel Attorneys as a professional assistant in the deceased estates department.

Andre joined Van Rensburg Attorneys in 2019 and was head of the deceased estates department until 2021. He then received the opportunity to move to the West Coast, where he joined Swemmer & Levin Attorneys. Andre loves travelling and enjoys the beauty that our country has to offer with his friends, family, and loved ones.

Harmann Potgieter

Attorney | LLB

Harmann graduated in 2018 with an LLB degree from the North-West University’s Potchefstroom Campus. He went on to study and grow in various fields, including doing a course on the Consumer Protection Act and a course at the University of South Africa where he obtained his NQF 7 Certificate in the Administration of Deceased Estates.

Harmann completed his articles of clerkship at Swemmer & Levin under the supervision of Mr Richard Phillips. After being admitted as an attorney in 2020, Harmann continued with Swemmer & Levin as a professional assistant in the deceased estates department as well as the litigation department. He loves to study, possesses a deep curiosity about the world, and is dedicated to giving back to the community.

Carla Cloete

Attorney, Conveyancer & Notary | LLB

Carla obtained her LLB at the North West University, Potchefstroom Campus in 2015. She completed her articles in 2017 with Brits Dreyer Inc in Bellville. She is an admitted Attorney, Notary and Conveyancer. After her articles she relocated to Kimberley where she worked as a professional assistant in the Conveyancing department of Van de Wall Inc. Coming back to her Western Cape roots, she now joins the Swemmer & Levin team as a professional assistant.