More and more transactions are done digitally, but estate planning has lagged behind technology. That may be changing, though with the introduction of the concept of the electronic will. Are electronic will valid in South Africa?
An electronic will is a will saved as a data message, email or a word document on a hard disk or memory device. This type of will is usually typed on the computer/email/data message, but there is no actual signature that allows the law to recognise the document as authentic.
The main requirements in terms of the Wills Act are that the will must be signed on each page by the testator and two competent witnesses. A certified copy of a signed will is not valid as the Master of the High Court will only accept an original signed will.
A will that is drafted electronically (data message, email or word document) can be regarded as a valid will if the application is made to the High Court and the court is satisfied that the document was drafted by the deceased and the document was intended by the deceased to be his/her last will.
In short, there is no legal certainty in South Africa as to how and where data messages can be used for the purposes of conveying one’s last wishes and final testament. It is important to have a lawyer ensure the validity of a will before attempting to have it as the only means to provide for a family or other beneficiaries in the event of the estate owners death, and the lawyer can review the document fully.
Until the Wills Act is amended to include electronic wills, it would be best, if you wish to avoid complications to draft the will the old-fashioned hard copy way.
Article was written in collaboration with our partners at Exceed.