Interpretation of Wills - Does Endumeni Case Apply?

Keywords: Animus testandi, contextual interpretation, Endumeni; freedom of testation, objective interpretation, purposive interpretation, teleological interpretation, textual interpretation, testator, Wills Act

Abstract

This article argues that the general approach to documentary interpretation articulated in Natal Joint Municipal Pension Fund v Endumeni Municipality 2012 4 SA 593 (SCA) (Endumeni) applies also to the interpretation of wills, subject to adaptation for context. It is argued that interpretation of wills and the application of an interpretation to a particular factual setting are coequal tasks. Each case must be decided on its own facts. The cardinal rule is the ascertainment of a testator's intention and giving effect thereto, provided that this will not bring about a violation of the law. It is argued that a court must put itself in the armchair of the testator and, after determining where the probabilities lie, it must infer or presume what the testator had in mind at the time that the will was created. Although intention is subjective, the interpretive process to determine a testator's intention is objective in form. It is argued that a court must, in every instance, understand the purpose for which it seeks to determine a testator's intention. This is so that it can undertake the correct enquiry. If the aim is to determine the meaning of a testamentary provision, then a testator's intention must be ascertained as memorialised in the written text of the will read as a whole, taking into account also the purpose of the text and its context. If, on the other hand, the aim is to determine whether a document is a testator's intended last will and testament, as is the case when section 2(3) of the Wills Act 7 of 1953 is invoked, then a testator's intention must be ascertained with reference to the document's purpose, taking also into account all legally relevant and admissible internal and external contextual factors. It is argued that all this is, as confirmed in Endumeni, consistent with the modern trend favouring an objective, purposive, contextual cum teleological mode of documentary interpretation.

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Author Biography

Fareed Moosa, University of the Western Cape

Senior Lecturer, Department of Mercantile Law

References

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Legislation
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996
Wills Act 7 of 1953
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Published
2021-02-17
Section
Articles