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Making a Will, A publication of the Legal Resources Foundation
Legal Resources Foundation (LRF)
October 25, 2005

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What is a Will?
A will is a legal document which says who must get your property when you die.

Why Make a Will?
Every family has to face the problems that come when someone dies. It is difficult to lose any family member, but the most serious problems often occur when the person who dies is the one who owned the family house and other property.

Usually, this is the father and husband, but often it is the mother when she was a single parent. In Zimbabwe, some people have seen a chance to make themselves rich when one of their relatives dies. They may move in and claim their brother's or sister's house and other property and leave the widow and children with nothing.

Although this has always been against the law, many widows and children do not know their rights. Under the old customary law of inheritance, it was easy for a relative who was appointed an heir to take the deceased person's property and use it. We now have a new inheritance law. Under the new law, when a man dies without leaving a will, his wife will inherit the matrimonial home and the wife and children will inherit the rest of his property. The practice of grabbing property has always been illegal, but we hope that now it will not happen as often as it used to.

However, if a person wants to be certain that his family will not suffer after he dies, he will be wise to plan ahead and make a will.

Fears About Wills
Many people do not like to think about dying, and as a result do not plan for looking after their family after their death.

People also have fears about wills. They think that if they write a will they are likely to die immediately. Or they think that if they write a will the beneficiaries (people who the will says must inherit their property) will kill them in order to get the inheritance sooner. But many people do write wills and keep them for many years before they die. If you are afraid someone will kill you to get an inheritance, then there is no need for them to know that you have left something to them.

Some men do not want to leave the marital home to their wife, because they fear she might remarry and then her new husband would get the property instead of his own children. In this case, it is possible to leave the house for the wife to use, but not to own. The will can specify that she will have the use of the house only as long as she does not marry. She cannot sell the house.

If You Have No Will
If you do not leave a will, the law will determine how your property will be divided. Although there are different rules for people under civil and customary law, in both cases the property will be inherited by the spouse or spouses and the children, with the spouse getting the house. The parents, brothers and sisters of the deceased person may only get a share if there are no children.

Who Can Make a Will?

  • Any person over sixteen can make a will.
  • Both men and women, married or single, can make wills. Today many women also own property as well as men.
  • A man who makes a will is called a testator. A woman who makes a will is called a testatrix.

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