South Africa: Widows, Partners Suffer When There's No Will Left Behind

14 September 2021

Widows and the partners of deceased men are still being side lined when it comes to inheritance and succession after their partners pass away.

This is according to the South African Women Lawyers Association's Chuma Hlengane.

Hlengane was speaking during the Department of Justice's virtual dialogue marking the commencement of the annual Wills Week campaign.

During this week, members of the public will be assisted to draw up their wills for free at all provincial Masters of the High Court offices, private law firms, private practice attorneys all supported by the department and the Law Society of South Africa.

A will is a legal document which sets out what should happen to a person's assets and personal belongings when they die.

Hlengane said in the association's experience, women and sometimes their children, are being left with nothing when their partners die because there is no will to protect them.

"In many parts of the country, women are still fighting the same battle of not being recognised when it comes to succession and inheritance especially in rural areas. You will discover that widows in these areas are still being abused by their in-laws because their right to inherit their husband's properties, estates or their marital estates is being infringed because they are being sidelined by male family members when their spouses die," she said.

Hlengane emphasised that it is not only assets that can be declared in a will but succession issues as well.

"Female heirs, as well, in the villages are suffering the same when it comes to leadership positions and chieftancy. When you are a female, you need to fight twice the battle (to succeed your parent) because there are people who will... try to take over merely for the fact that you are a woman.

The Law Society of South Africa's Ugeshnee Naicker said National Wills Week provides an opportunity for citizens to have legally binding wills which will declare what should happen to their assets when they pass away.

"If you die without leaving a will... your assets may not go to the person of your choice, it can take a longer time to have an executor appointed, there could be extra and unnecessary costs, there could be unhappiness and conflict amongst members of your family because there are no clear instructions on how to distribute assets," Naicker said.

Documents that you will need when drawing up a will:

Your identity document

A list of all your assets and even specific personal items like clothing

A list of beneficiaries and their Identity numbers

Visit the Law Society of South Africa's website at for a list of all lawyers and attorneys participating during Will's Week.

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