Do you have to leave your estate to your family?


Private Client Holdings explains various scenarios after death

In a variety of countries around the globe, forced heirship laws are in place and have also evolved over the years to eventually be legislated into law.

South Africa does not have a law where one has to leave all or a portion of one’s estate to any specific group, so in theory, one can choose to leave the estate to anyone he/she chooses. However, David Knott of Private Client Trust, the fiduciary services division of Private Client Holdings and a member of the Fiduciary Institute of South Africa, warns that this does not mean that your entire estate will devolve upon the named beneficiaries in terms of your Will as there are certain individuals who may well have a claim against the estate.

“Firstly, a parent is obliged to maintain his minor children, children suffering under a disability and even major children in certain circumstances. Although not that common, this obligation to support may even extend to parents and other dependants of the deceased who may have depended upon the deceased for maintenance,” says Knott.

According to Knott the spouse of the deceased is also protected by the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act. In terms of the Act, the spouse must prove to the executor of the estate that the award that flows to him or her, together with his or her own income, is insufficient to maintain them to the standard that the deceased might have done.

“Our Courts have decided that where a heterosexual couple merely live together without the benefits and obligations of marriage, the surviving partner does not qualify as a spouse and could therefore not claim maintenance. On the other hand, there is a decided case confirming that the surviving partner in a same sex relationship would be considered a spouse. However this case was heard before the adoption of the Civil Union Act in 2006 when it was not permissible for same sex couples to enter into a marriage-like arrangement – it would be interesting if that case were to be challenged now,” he says.

“The computation of any maintenance claim either by a child, a dependant or a surviving spouse is always the subject of negotiation by the claimant and the executor,” explains Knott. “The executor is duty bound to act in the best interests of the heirs to the estate and cannot therefore merely accede to inflated or unreasonable claims, whilst the claimant is obviously seeking the best possible settlement. This negotiation is never easy, particularly where a second marriage and second families might be involved and the relationships are not good,” he adds.

Creditors, a divorced spouse entitled to maintenance, a spouse married in community of property who must take his or her one half share, and any claim for accrual in terms of the Matrimonial Property Act must all be settled before heirs to the estate may benefit. From all of this, it is clear that one cannot merely execute a Will in haste before dashing off on holiday.

“After assessing your situation objectively, one needs to consult with an expert who is fully conversant with these pitfalls, and many others,” warns Knott.

David Knott

Published On: October 23rd, 2017 / Categories: Estates /

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