When I agreed to start at Jackamans on 5 January 2023, my thinking was ‘I’ll start when it’s likely to be quiet’, assuming that things would get off to a slow start in that first week of the new year, like they do in South Africa.  I was wrong – the phones rang low, but they rang consistently. It was the first of many differences I’ve since encountered as I’ve navigated my way through the English Wills and Probate system.

Some of the differences are cosmetic – like terminology. Your ‘Grant of Probate’ is called a ‘Letter of Executorship’ in SA; ‘Inheritance Tax’ is referred to there as ‘Estate Duty’; your Deed of Variation is a ‘Redistribution Agreement’ and your Life Interest Trust is called an usufruct – testimony to the Roman-Dutch basis of South African law.

Other differences are more substantive. In South Africa, marriage and divorce do not have the same effect on wills that they have in England. Over there, the testator has complete freedom of testation – he/she can leave whatever, to whoever. Although there is a statute called the ‘Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act’ 1990, which offers some recourse for the disinherited, it is a short Act that doesn’t have the reach of its English counterpart, the ‘Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act’ 1975. It could be said that these particular differences speak to a commitment to social cohesion and the family unit in the English system. Another aspect of this is the significance of the Charity sector here, a major player in this area of law. In South Africa, charities hardly feature at all – over there, it is the odd eccentric who leaves her (it’s usually ‘her’) entire fortune to the SA equivalent of the RSPCA.

The other major difference is how I’ve felt since entering the legal profession in Blighty. Although there are those here who might feel that some of the relevant institutions are showing symptoms of long Covid, for me there is an enviable level of efficiency. Documents do get issued; waiting times are not measurable in ‘eras’; tax offices have real humans at the end of phone lines. And the post! The post!  There is a postal service! When I tell my colleagues back in SA about the English postal service, it is in the hushed tones of reverence. I’m working in a system that is working, and that feels great.

Wills and Probate Executive Sharon Mowat is a valued member of the Private Client team based at Jackamans’ Ipswich office.  You can contact her by email at or call on 01473 255591.

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