Tag Archives: Last Will

Choosing guardians for your minor children

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My husband and I have two minor children. I am concerned about who will look after our children in the event of my husband and I passing away at the same time. We have been advised to nominate guardians in our wills. What should I keep in mind when choosing guardians?

Choosing guardians for your children is one of the hardest and most important decisions you will ever have to make. The thought of someone other than you raising your precious children is gut-wrenching. The worst part about it? You’ll never be fully comfortable with the choice, because no one can do as good a job as you. There is no perfect choice. However difficult it may be, naming guardians is a must-do for every parent. If the thought of placing the future of your children in someone else’s hands makes you queasy, imagine leaving the decision to someone you do not like, or do not even know. That is why parents should pick legal guardians – the persons who should raise their children if both parents die before the children turn 18.

When preparing a Last Will and Testament, the emphasis is typically on the disposition of property. However, selecting guardians to care for your minor children and nominating them in your Last Will and Testament is just as, if not more important, than distributing assets. The transition to life with guardians is especially traumatic as children come to terms with new parental figures, likely following the untimely death of one or both parents. The guardians you choose will be responsible for helping to heal this wound. It is of the utmost importance to choose guardians with whom you and your kids are comfortable and who has the emotional intelligence, time and interest to raise your children.

Choosing guardians

The first hurdle in choosing guardians is finding someone who is willing to act in such an important and responsible capacity. Raising someone else’s children is not a decision potential guardians should take lightly, as assuming guardianship will change the rest of the guardians’ lives, as they step into the roles as surrogate parents. Besides finding willing persons, choosing guardians involves objective and subjective assessments different from choosing other fiduciaries such as trustees. Guardians should be reliable and stable, with sound judgment and values that are similar to your own. The guardians will need to comfort, teach and encourage your children as they grow towards adulthood. Guardians who already have a warm and loving relationship with your children would be immensely valuable in such an emotionally trying transition.

Selecting family members

Instinctively, many think the right guardians for their children are family members. However, in some cases, nonfamily members may be a better fit. Naming friends as guardians is increasingly common, though relatives are still the most popular choice. While family is frequently an obvious choice, circumstances may make this impractical or undesirable. Hopefully your children are comfortable with grandparents, or an aunt and uncle who may have similarly aged children of their own. If this is not the case, close friends with similar values, who live nearby, and who have kids of their own, may be a better option than faraway relatives. The choice is specific to your lifestyle and your relationship with your family.

Naming alternate guardians

Unfortunately, couples divorce and families break up. Choosing a couple as guardians could turn out to be problematic if they divorce or one is otherwise no longer able to serve in the role. Such a scenario could give guardianship to a person whom you are less inclined to have raise your children. If alternates are not named and the nominated guardians are unable to care for your children, the decision as to their care could end up being made by a court. As a result, it is advisable to name alternates in case the first choice is unwilling or unable to act. This way your wishes can be carried out and the paths of your children’s lives are not at the discretion of a judge.

Revisiting your choice of guardians

Once you have carefully selected the guardians and alternates and have nominated them in your Last Will and Testament, it is important to remember to revisit the choices as circumstances change. As children (and guardians) age, their needs and abilities also change. You will want to make sure that the people you selected a few years ago are still the right choice today.

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This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

What are mutual wills?

B1The most general mutual will is that of a married couple. This does not mean, however, that the estates are joined and that the Testator and Testatrix have to make a joint decision about the distribution of their estates. Each party may still make independent decisions about the distribution of his/her estate within one will.

As a result, a mutual will is very popular among married couples, but the person who draws up the will, should take into consideration each party’s assets, liabilities and needs regarding inheritance to determine whether he/she should draw up separate wills or a mutual will, i.e. 2 separate wills within one document or one will which determines that merging of the respective or mutual wills should take place.

What mutual wills should contain

In the case of a mutual will there should be a description regarding the execution of the will should the spouses die simultaneously or within a short period, such as 30 days of each other. For argument’s sake, the Testator and Testatrix could be in a car accident. The testator dies and the Testatrix is in a critical condition, rendering her unable to draw up a new will; provision should be made in the will for such scenarios.

Legislation acknowledges the principle of freedom of bequeathment; each person therefore has the right to bequeath his/her assets according to his/her preference. Despite a Testator and Testatrix having a mutual will, one of the parties could decide, for whatever reason, to have another individual will drawn up which is dated later than the mutual will. The surviving spouse will not be able to insist that the mutual will be accepted as the last will and testament.

Amending a mutual will

One party does not need the other party’s permission to amend a mutual will. Each party has the right to draw up a new will at any time, without any obligation to inform the other party thereof. Should the mutual will turn out to be the last will of the deceased, it will become the valid will regarding the deceased, regardless of whether the surviving spouse had already drawn up another will.

Do the estates merge?

Merging of estates takes place when the estates of two people are joined into one upon the death of the first spouse, mainly with the aim of managing an asset in which both parties had an interest. Normally a limited right, such as a usufruct, should be created in terms of any of the assets in the estate to the benefit of the surviving spouse. Even with merging of estates the surviving party has the right to accept or reject the mutual will and the resulting merging of estate assets after the death of the first party. It boils down to the fact that, even where merging of estates is determined in the will, the mutual will does not have much value if the surviving party rejects the stipulations of the will after the death of the deceased party.

The way in which the creation of the merge is worded in a will is of extreme importance, as the wrong choice of words could have a major impact on the payment of policies outside the estate which should fall to the surviving party’s lot. The acceptance or rejection of a will in which a merge was created should also be considered carefully, as there are several implications, e.g. Transfer duty, Donations tax and Capital Gains Tax.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Dealing with marriage and estate planning

A3_GTIt is important to understand the legal implications of the marital property regime, especially when drafting a Last Will and Testament and also when entering into a marriage, as the regime chosen by the estate planner is going to affect his/her assets.

The most important forms of marriage are: marriage in community of property, marriage out of community of property (without accrual), and marriage out of community of property (with accrual).

Marriage in community of property

  1. There is no prior contractual arrangement, apart from getting married;
  2. Spouses do not have two distinct estates;
  3. There is a joint estate, with each spouse having a 50% share in each and every asset in the estate (no matter in whose name it is registered);
  4. Applies to assets acquired before the marriage and during the marriage;
  5. Should one spouse incur debts in his own name it will automatically bind his/her spouse, who will also become liable for the debt;
  6. If a sequestration takes place (in the case of insolvency), the joint estate is sequestrated.

Marriage out of community of property without the accrual system

  1. An antenuptial contract (ANC) is drawn up by an attorney (who is registered as a notary), before the marriage;
  2. Where there is no contract, the marriage is automatically in community of property;
  3. The values of each spouse’s estate on going into the marriage are stipulated in the contract;
  4. A marriage by ANC means that all property owned by spouses before the date of the marriage will remain the sole property of each spouse;
  5. Each spouse controls his/her own estate exclusively without interference from the other spouse, although each has a duty to contribute to the household expenses according to his/her means;
  6. To allow for assets acquired by spouses during the marriage to remain the sole property of each spouse, the accrual system must be specifically excluded in the ANC.

Marriage out of community of property with the accrual system

  1. The accrual system automatically applies unless expressly excluded in the antenuptial contract;
  2. The accrual system addresses the question of the growth of each spouse’s estate after the date of marriage.

ESTATE PLANNING

Donations between spouses are exempt from donations tax and estate duty.

Marriage in community of property

  1. In the event of the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse will have a claim for 50% of the value of the combined estate, thus reducing the actual value of the estate by 50%. The estate is divided after all the debts have been settled in a deceased estate (not including burial costs and estate duty, as these are the sole obligations of the deceased and not the joint estate).
  2. When drafting a Last Will and Testament, spouses married in community of property need to be aware that it is only half of any asset that he or she is able to bequeath.
  3. Upon the death of one spouse, all banking accounts are frozen (even if they are in the name of one of the spouses), which could affect liquidity.
  4. Donations or bequests to someone married in community of property can be made to exclude the community of property; in other words, if the donor stipulates that the donation must not fall into the joint estate, then the donee can build up a separate estate. However, returns on such separate assets will go back to the joint estate.

Marriage out of community of property without the accrual system

Each estate planner (spouse) retains possession of assets owned prior to the marriage.

Marriage out of community of property with the accrual system

A donation from one spouse to the other spouse is excluded from the calculation of each spouse’s accrual; in other words, the recipient does not include it in his growth and the donor’s accrual is automatically reduced by the donation amount.

DIVORCE

In the event of divorce, the marriage will be dissolved by court decree, which will address such aspects as child maintenance, access, guardianship and custody, spousal maintenance, the division of assets, division of pension interests and so on.

COHABITATION AND DEFINITION OF “SPOUSE”

Cohabitation is defined as a stable, monogamous relationship where a couple who do not wish to or cannot get married, live together as spouses. The Taxation Laws Amendment Act has extended the definition of “spouses” to include “a same sex or heterosexual union which the Commissioner is satisfied is intended to be permanent”.

Many pieces of legislation, including the Pension Funds Amendment Act and the Taxation Laws Amendment Act, now define spouse to include a partner in a cohabitative relationship, the effects of which are that cohabitees will benefit from the Section 4(q) estate duty deduction in the Estate Duty Act, and the donations tax exemptions of the Income Tax Act.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)