“Don’t let your last will become your lost will” – the SA Registry of Wills and Testaments

Young working people increasingly regard having a last will and testament as part and parcel of being a responsible young adult. It is often marriage or another permanent relationship, or the conception or birth of a child, which trigger the awareness that a will is necessary to safeguard one’s dependents.

With wills being drawn at an early age, the chances are good that they will not be called upon for decades, as many who draw their will aged 30 will still live for the better part of half a century. What are the prospects that their loved ones will know that they had a will, and where to find the will, so many years later?

Even where the will is made by a person of advanced years, how many of their loved ones actually know that a will has been made, and where it can be located after death? If the will was left in the safekeeping of an attorney, do loved ones know this, and know how to contact the attorney?

If the will cannot be found, the deceased estate will be wound up in terms of any older valid will that can be found. The consequences can be dire, with assets going to former partners instead of current ones, or to certain children only to the exclusion of others. Failing any valid will, the estate is wound up in accordance with the rules of intestate succession, a “one size fits all” hierarchy of spouse, children, parents, siblings, and so on.

If the will cannot be found, then the care and planning that went into formulating and signing one, have been wasted, and the person’s wishes will be disregarded.

The SA Registry of Wills and Testaments was launched in May 2013. At no cost, this facility enables one to register the existence of one’s will, as well as the contact details of the executor and the person who holds the actual original will. These details are publicly searchable via the facility, by entering the names and identity number of the person whose will is being sought. No confidential information concerning assets or heirs is recorded.

Should our client sign a will today, then with her consent we will register her will on the facility. Should she then die in 20 years, by which time her loved ones may not have any idea where to locate the original will, the idea is that they can search with ease to find out the details of who possesses the will. They will receive that person’s name, organisation name, phone number and email address. If the will was left in our safekeeping, then they will receive our details and be able to contact us to make the necessary arrangements for the Master’s office to receive the original will.

The facility also allows registration of one’s status as an organ donor, and registration of living will documents.

It goes without saying that a will is an important document to have properly prepared and kept safe until needed. The SA Registry of Wills and Testaments assists in ensuring that wills, once drawn, are not lost. In order for the facility to be useful, however, it is important to keep the registration details up to date. In the event that any later wills are drawn, it is essential that these too are registered, so that the facility points loved ones to the correct, latest will, when this is needed.