South African Intestate Succession Law for Sole Surviving Descendants


A South African citizen approached me seeking clarity on the legal situation after her father’s passing in 2022. Her father had no will, and she was his only surviving family member. In this article, we will explore the legal framework that governs such cases in South Africa, specifically addressing the rights of the sole surviving descendant.

Summary of the Law: 

In South Africa, when someone passes away without leaving a valid will, the rules of intestate succession come into play. This legal framework is defined by the Intestate Succession Act of 1987 (Act 81 of 1987). This law outlines what happens to an individual’s estate in the absence of a will. This scenario, known as intestate succession, occurs when no valid will exists or if a will is partly or entirely invalid for any reason.

The Act deals specifically with situations where the deceased is survived by specific categories of individuals. It states that if the deceased is only survived by a spouse, the spouse is entitled to inherit the entire intestate estate. Similarly, if the deceased is survived solely by descendants, those descendants are entitled to inherit the intestate estate.


In the case of the individual described above, it’s important to note that at the time of his passing, he was unmarried and had only one surviving descendant, his daughter. According to South African law, as outlined in Section 1(1)(b) of the Intestate Succession Act, the daughter, being the sole surviving descendant, is the rightful and sole heir to her late father’s estate. As such, she is entitled to inherit her father’s entire estate in accordance with the principles of intestate succession as governed by the Act. This legal conclusion is firmly grounded in the unambiguous language of the law, confirming her legal entitlement to her father’s estate.

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