Wills and Deceased Estate Administration, a view.

By P Garayi, 010 592 2321
The Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly has had many people on edge. With many if not all people being forced to face their fears in one way or another, be it falling ill, losing a job, or having to spend time alone in isolation. It is as a result of these anxieties and unknowns weighing on one’s mind, that it might feel like there is suddenly a pressing need to get your affairs in order ― just in case something “unexpected happens”.
In as much as the majority of people who contract Covid-19 experience mild symptoms in the beginning. This Pandemic has just proven to the world that time waits for no one and be it you are sick or not, it does not hurt to be prepared if you do need to be hospitalized. Many people feel that planning your Estate should only occur when you know you are about “DIE” but it is a fact that having an estate plan is actually meant to ease your fears should anything happen to you sooner than later”.
The Lockdown period all over the world has created many challenges and unusual conditions for many peoples, with the major one being people not being able to print their Wills to sign them at home or being in isolation with the very people who are beneficiaries to their Wills – and who therefore cannot sign the Will as witnesses.
In as much as eSignatures offer an advanced technical solution to many of these challenges as they are made with digital software and provide a date and time stamp to enable advisors. The very same eSignatures are recognised by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECTA) as verification of a range of legal documents, such as employment contracts, short-term real estate documents, personal and commercial agreements, however it is unfortunate that Last Wills and Testaments are excluded and may not be verified using an eSignature under this law.
The reasoning behind it are very valid whereby it is to protect the Testator and Testatrix from potential fraud. It is rather unfortunate that in the age of Coronavirus, however, this is an outdated approach. Fraud still happens when using a paper-based approach with a wet signature – as the high number of contested Wills that end up in court show. However, while the world hopes for the Covid 19 period to slowly be a thing of the past and for the lockdown restrictions to be gradually lifted allowing human interaction. What can be done in the meantime is to advise about the importance of planning one’s estates especially by meeting all requirements that need to be met when it comes to will drafting save for the signatures. However for now one can only hope that by harnessing technology and legally recognising eSignatures as a way to validate Last Wills and Testaments, regulators could make it easier for more South Africans to provide financial security to their families, protect their legacies and plan for their futures in a very uncertain time.
The same also goes for the administration of deceased estates with courts only open at present for the consideration of urgent matters, and the Masters’offices largely closed during this period. Estate Administration is difficult in the best of times and these are not the best of times.
If one has recently lost a loved one and were named as executor of the Estate or trustee of their Trust, this is an especially difficult time.
Administrators or executors are running some real risks by overstepping legal deadlines as well as leaving the estate more vulnerable to challenge by a family member, furthermore it is even more painful for beneficiaries who have to wait until the Estate has been finalised to get their share of the “cake”.
Conclusion: With current government lockdown directives and law firms now closing their doors to client appointments. It is without a doubt that grieving families are set to experience increasing stress as they try to manage their deceased loved one’s affairs or if individuals want to plan what happens to their estates.
In most cases, time is of the essence when dealing with the above. It’s critical that administration of estates is not neglected during this time of social distancing and business closures.
Furthermore, getting your estate in order and deciding on what will happen after “ you are gone” is still crucial and should not be neglected. In response to these challenges, Schreuder Attorneys team are using teleconferencing and video conferencing wherever possible in order to provide clients with information and support on a range of deceased estates matters and drafting of wills.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute, nor should be construed as, the giving of legal advice. It is recommended that one of our attorneys are approached for separate and proper advice: 010 592 2321