Who will inherit if I die without a will?

Key takeaways

  • If you die without a will, you are said to die intestate.
  • The law of intestate succession then determines which family members inherit.
  • A life partner or dependent parent may lose out if you do not have a will.
  • Your adult children, your parents or your siblings may inherit when the money from your estate is needed for, for example, your minor children.


If you die without drawing up a will, your investments and any cash and property you own will be dealt with in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act. 

Your death will be reported to the Master of the High Court who will consult your family before appointing an executor for your estate.

The executor finds and takes control of all your assets, determines what debts you have outstanding, settles these, including any tax you owe, and then distributes what is left to your heirs.

If you die without a will, you are said to die intestate and the executor must distribute your estate according to the Intestate Succession Act. This is how the executor will determine who gets what:

 

If you are survived by Who inherits
A surviving spouse but you had no children

The surviving spouse inherits the entire estate

No surviving spouse but children or grandchildren or great grandchildren

The entire estate will be divided among your children (adult or minor). If any of child has predeceased you, his or her share will be divided among his or her children.
Note: The Administration of Estates Act stipulates that if a minor child inherits cash it should be paid into the Guardian’s Fund. The minor’s other parent or someone appointed by the Master of the High Court as their guardian will have to apply to the fund for money for their care.

A spouse and children or grandchildren or greatgrandchildren

Your estate will be divided into equal parts in line with the number of children plus one. These parts are known as a “child’s share”.  If this part, or child’s share, amounts to less than R250 000, your spouse will get whatever is in the estate up to R250 000, and the balance will be divided between your children. If the child’s share amounts to more than R250 000, your spouse and each child will receive an equal portion of the estate.

For example, if a married person with a spouse and three children dies without a will leaving a R500 000 estate, the estate divided by four (number of children plus one) is R125 000. The spouse will therefore inherit R250 000 and the children will each inherit R83 333 (R250 000 / 3).

Only your parents The entire estate is divided between your parents.
One parent only

The entire estate goes to your surviving parent.

One parent and children, grandchildren or great grandchildren from your other parent Half the estate will be given to your surviving parent and the other half will be divided equally among the children of your other parent.
No spouse, no children and no parents, but your mother and/or father had other children (your siblings or half-siblings) The estate will be divided in two. Half will be divided among your mother’s children and half among your father’s children.
No spouse, no children, no parents and none of your parents’ children The estate is divided among the blood relatives who are the next closest to you.


Remember that if you die without a will that appoints a guardian or guardians for your minor children, the other parent of your child, or children, is automatically the sole guardian.

Should you and your spouse die simultaneously in, for example, a car accident, or if the other parent is no longer alive, the Master of the High Court will appoint a guardian for your children.