Executing a will is an important step in estate planning. A will gives the testator the opportunity to bequeath his assets and to indicate how he wants his estate to be distributed after his death. Not only is the proper execution of a will important but it should be updated regularly and carefully to provide for changed circumstances. The will must accordingly be readily available for the testator to amend or revoke. The availability of the will after the testator's death is crucial in order for the administration process to commence. Although an easily accessible will can lead to problems surrounding the authenticity of the will, it can contribute to the prompt administration of the estate as it must be submitted to the master in terms of the Administration of Estates Act.
In this article numerous problems relating to the existence, availability and recovery of a will at the death of the testator are discussed. Interrelated issues such as forgery, lost wills, missing wills, concealment of wills and revocation by destruction of a will are discussed with reference to case law and other examples. Questions as to the proper custody of the will, before and after the death of the testator, resolving disputes amongst next-of-kin, and the onus of proof, are discussed. Cases, that in fact dealt with common law lost wills, but where section 2(3) condonation applications were incorrectly brought, are discussed. Possible resolutions for the miscellaneous problems with wills are explored and recommendations made to solve potential problems.