Answer to a question from a reader

How can I ensure that only I inherit my father's house and not my step-siblings?

The short answer

If your parents were married in community of property, your mother had the right to leave her share of the house to her other children.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

Both my parents have passed away. They divorced but the house is in my father's name. My mother wrote a will in which she left her shares to her children from previous marriages. The house has been neglected and ruined by my siblings, and one of them is trying to take the house for herself. As far as I know, my father did not leave a will or title deed. Where can I go to ensure that I am listed as a dependent of my father? As far as I know, I am his only child but Home Affairs claims not to have me on their system. I don't want my father's house to go to children who aren't his. 

The long answer

To start with, your mother and father were probably married in community of property, as all marriages are unless you specifically opt for an ante-nuptial contract. So, at the time of their divorce, they would each have got 50% of the joint estate. That means your mother had the right to leave her 50% to her children from previous marriages in her will if she wanted to.

You say the house is in your late father’s name but that there is no title deed as far as you know. You could check with the Deeds Office if a title deed was ever issued. You would need to take as much of the following information to the Deeds Office as you can find: the erf number of the house (not the street name), the full names of your mother and father, their IDs, death certificates, and marriage and divorce papers if you have them, and ask the Deeds Office to do a search for the title deeds. They will charge about R14 to do the search. If there is a title deed, they will make you a copy.

If there is no title deed, you should check with the municipality where the application for an RDP house was made by your father, or your father and mother, to see whose names were included in the application. You can only get an RDP house if you are married or living together and have dependents. You should check whether the house was officially awarded to your father, and ask for a copy of the award. It’s known as “the Happy Letter”, which the municipality sends to notify applicants that a house has been awarded.  

If it was awarded to your father, your parents’ marriage in community of property means that, on their divorce, they still would each have got 50% of the property. 

If your father has now died without a will, his half of the house goes to his descendants, while the other half that was left to the children from your mother’s previous marriages remains theirs. The non-biological children – your late father’s stepchildren when he was married to your mother – are not regarded as blood relatives in South African law and cannot inherit through intestate succession. That means they cannot inherit if your father died without making a will. If you are the only child of your father, then you as his descendant should inherit half the house. 

You need to find out when his death was reported and who was issued the Letter of Authority, which gives the person the responsibility to wind up the deceased estate and see that the right heirs benefit. The Master of the High Court is the person who issues the Letter of Authority. As your father’s descendant, you should inherit the half of the house that your father owned, while your siblings are entitled to keep the half they inherited from your mother.

It would be a good idea to ask for legal advice. You can approach Legal Aid, which is a means-tested organisation, meaning that they must assist a person who cannot afford a lawyer. These are their contact details:

  • Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110

  • Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Feb. 4, 2022, 3:43 p.m.

See more questions and answers

Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.