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A last will and testament is more commonly known as a Will. Keep it simple!

The word Will has Germanic origins and is used more often than the word of French origin, Testament. These days there is no real distinction between the use of either word, but traditionally Wills dealt with real estate and Testaments handled personal estate.

It is therefore not necessary to use the term Last Will and Testament, which need not have capital letters either.

Whether you use the words last will and testament, or simply use the word Will, both refer to a legal document that provides instructions for what should happen to a person’s assets after his or her death.

If a person dies without a Will, they are said to be “intestate” and state intestacy laws govern the distribution of the property of the deceased. In South Africa, the legislation is found in the Intestate Succession Act, Act 81 of 1987.

Let us consider whether one can change a last will and testament. A Will should be regularly updated as your life circumstances change, in order to plan your estate matters around your new life circumstances. One can plan to marry and start a family – so as you marry, update your Will; as each child is born, update your Will! But life often happens when you least expect it, sadly bringing potential scenarios like divorce or death of a loved one your way. Remember, in each life-event, make sure that your Will is updated to reflect your revised intentions based on your new circumstances.

Now think about all these Wills you will have drafted over time. The concept of ‘last’ in ‘last will and testament’ becomes apparent. As you sign each new valid Will, you need to revoke your previous Wills, ie make all previous Wills invalid. This is done by stating so in your newly drafted Will – this is your ‘last’ Will (aka last will and testament); and you revoke all previous Wills. How will the Executor and legal system know which one is your last Will? Upon signing your new valid Will, you should also record the date of signature.

Remember to sign your new Will in the presence of two witnesses, neither of whom may be beneficiaries of the Will.

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