The demand for wills is increasing in SA as Covid-19 spreads - and divorces may spike too

Business Insider SA
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  • Amid the coronavirus crisis, the demand for wills has increased across the world.
  • South Africa is no exception, according to one of the country's biggest wills and estate administrators. 
  • At the same time, the divorce rate may also spike as a result of the lockdown.
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The coronavirus has brought a big increase in the demand for wills as the spectre of death hangs over the world.  

In Australia, the demand for wills soared by 300% in March, according to one report. There has also been a sharp increase in the demand for wills in the United States, while the BBC reports of wills being signed on car bonnets and witnessed through windows as Brits rush to complete wills – while still complying with strict legal requirements.

In South Africa, the demand for wills in South Africa has also increased, according to one of the country’s biggest wills and estates administration providers.

Capital Legacy says that the virus has caused people to confront death in a way that’s spurring a demand for wills.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has focused everyone’s attention on the possibility of passing away and the uncertainty of life," says CEO Alex Simeonides.

Massive spike in will enquiries

Between January and March this year, Capital Legacy says they’ve seen a 660% increase in enquiries for wills, compared to the same period last year. These numbers also climbed compared to the three months prior.

"In traditionally our quietest period, January to March, we received over 3,800 direct enquiries for assistance with wills," says Simeonides.

"Compare this to the 500 direct enquiries we received in the same period last year."

Complications to drafting wills in lockdown

Although many people are now looking to get their estates in order, drafting a will under lockdown conditions presents several challenges.

"Not everyone will be able to print their wills to sign them," says Simeonides.

"And there is a high likelihood that the people they are in isolation with are also the beneficiaries to their wills and can therefore not sign as witnesses. These are both requirements for a will to be valid in court."

At present, digital signatures are not considered valid on wills, and it’s unclear what legally will happen should someone die during lockdown conditions with a valid will that does not have the correct witness signatures.

Drafting a will at home

Drafting a will is not necessarily a complex process, though. You don’t need a lawyer to create a will if you have a straightforward financial situation - although a lawyer or financial planner can assist in complex situations, most banks and financial institutions offer simple wills as an online or telephonic service. 

The Law Society of South Africa has a comprehensive online resource available for those who have yet to draft a will - although this does not circumvent the requirements for physical copies and witness signatures.

Divorces may also spike

At the same time, the divorce rate may also spike as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns - as was the case in China.

Attorney at Krouwkams Attorneys, Olivia Krouwkams, says divorces in South Africa may follow a similar trend to those in China once lockdown regulations are lifted. 

Krouwkams, who also assists couples through mediation, says this is because many couples are not used to spending so much time in each others’ company, which may lead to additional conflict.

"We’re not used to being with our partners for such extended periods of time, and if you’ve spent your life just coping with your partner - not really sharing a life and communicating adequately - this time in lockdown is going to be an extremely challenging time," she says.

Because the courts are currently only hearing urgent matters under lockdown, Krouwkams says it’s unlikely they will grant a divorce - and even once courts reopen, they will likely be flooded with requests.

Instead, Krouwkams recommends mediation as an alternative - which is something she and other attorneys are now offering during lockdown using video conference tools.

"People think they need to go through mediation only when they want a divorce, but if there are disputes, such as those in the family unit, that you just can’t seem to resolve, this is something you can bring to mediation," she says.

"And especially in this time, it can help to have a third party look at your problems from a new perspective and to find a strategy that fulfils both party’s needs."

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