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When Should You Write Your Will?

By David Thomson, 19 March 2020

“As a very young person with no assets (other than a bank account), needing to write your will may seem strange,” says David Thomson, a senior legal adviser at Sanlam Personal Finance.

“However we all know how quickly time passes; we buy stuff and next thing we know we have debt as well!”

Over the years, that ‘stuff’ can accumulate to quite a substantial value, which is why being organised about where it goes when you’re no longer around is so important.

Life is also unpredictable – when we’re younger, we can think we only need to worry about death decades down the line. Sadly, though, that isn’t always true. You can write your will in a relatively quick amount of time, but the comfort it brings those you leave behind can be priceless.

It’s a good idea to write your will simply for peace of mind, says Thomson. Avoid adding strain to your loved ones’ grief over your passing if you can help it. “Even if at first you leave your things to your parents or siblings, that’s fine. At least you don’t leave them with a chaotic situation to sort out too,” says Thomson. Besides the mental strain, you risk unnecessary drama among family and friends about who should receive what if you don’t leave a will. “There should be no arguments among your family and friends as to what you wanted to happen to your assets on your death.”

What Is the Minimum Age to Write Your Will?

“You can write your will from the age of 16 in terms of SA law,” shares Thomson. You might think: ‘What does a midteen have that could possibly be listed in a will?’ In exceptional scenarios where you may have inherited property or other assets from a deceased relative, a will is necessary, says Thomson. For those who don’t fall into this category? “It’s not really necessary until you’ve turned 18 in the majority of cases. From the age of 18, you’re a major and can own investments, property, etc. in your own right,” says Thomson.

Assign Responsibility

Besides deciding what goes to whom, a will allows you to assign responsibility to someone you trust to take the guesswork out of wrapping up your estate – something your loved ones will likely be grateful for. This is where an executor comes into the picture, and can prove an essential part of your will. “There is no confusion as to who must wind up your affairs – you have stated clearly who is authorised to do it and they are then accountable,” says Thomson.

Dos and Don’ts

Take the next step to write your will by putting it down on paper. Here are Thomson’s dos and don’ts to help you get it right:


  • Have a hard copy record (written or typed out) of your will. It needs to be signed by you (the testator) on each page and also by two witnesses at the end – and preferably on each page too.
  • Date your will when you write it to avoid any confusion about different versions
  • Cancel old wills by stating that you cancel previous versions in your new will
  • Say exactly who you want your assets to go to (name people with their full name and ID number if possible)
  • State who the residue goes to (Thomson notes there is always a ‘residue’ – what’s left over after specific bequests to people and legacies)
  • Appoint an executor (administrator who winds up the estate). They should not stand to benefit from your will in any way – they should be trusted and objective.
  • Provide for a testamentary trust if you are responsible for any children under the age 18, and nominate substitute guardians for them when you write your will


  • Let an heir to your will be a witness
  • Forget to consider your spouse and your children. “Failure to do so could result in legal claims against your estate unless you made adequate arrangements for them by ensuring, for example, your life insurance proceeds go to them,” cautions Thomson.

This article was prepared by Sanlam Reality.

Sanlam Life Insurance is a licensed financial service provider.
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