THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF TRUSTS

Trusts have various advantages, but unfortunately, there are also disadvantages. Although this is not a complete synopsis of all the pros and cons, it gives a general overview of what’s involved.

Advantages:

  1. Growth taking place in the Trust assets settles in the Trust and not in your personal estate.
  2. By selling the assets to the Trust, the amount owed to you by the Trust will remain outstanding on the loan account and shall be regarded as an asset to your estate.
  3. A Trust offers protection against problems should you become mentally incompetent.
  4. A Trust remains confidential as opposed to documents like wills and records of deceased estates which are public documents and therefore open for inspection.
  5. A Trust can offer financial protection to disabled dependents, children or beneficiaries with special needs.
  6. A Trust can evade the administrative costs of consecutive estates by making provision for consecutive beneficiaries.
  7. A Trust can lighten the emotional stress on your family when you die because the Trust will continue without any of the formalities that are required from a deceased estate.
  8. By choosing your Trustees well you can ensure professional asset and investment management.
  9. The Trust will enable you to have a degree of control over the assets in the Trust after your death, via the Trustees.
  10. After your death and before the estate has been settled the Trust can provide a source of income for your dependent(s).
  11. You will prevent your minor child’s inheritance from being transferred to the Guardian’s Fund.
  12. You will avoid the problem of trying to distribute assets equally among the heirs.
  13. Levels of income may be varied according to the changing needs of the beneficiaries at the discretion of the Trustees.
  14. Due to the assets remaining the property of the Trust and not the beneficiaries it need not be included in people’s estates as part of their assets when they die, which effects a saving in Estate duty.
  15. The Trust assets will be protected from creditors for the same reason.

Disadvantages:

  1. You don’t have full control of your assets, as the other Trustees also have a say in the matter.
  2. A Trust is registered and the authorities can gain access to it.
  3. You could possible choose the wrong Trustees. You could expect problems if the Trustees are vying heirs. This shows how important it is to have at least one independent Trustee.

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)

HOW AND WHEN TO USE THE SMALL CLAIMS COURT

The small claims court (SCC) is for anyone who wants to institute a minor civil claim against someone else. You can also claim against companies and associations. However, the claims are limited to amounts that are less than R15 000. This excludes the State, meaning a person cannot make a claim against a local municipality, for example. Claims made in the SCC are done quickly and cheaply without having to use an attorney and anyone, except juristic persons, are allowed to use them.

Read more about the SCC on The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s website: justice.gov.za

Where do I start?

If you are going to institute a claim against someone else, be smart about it. Don’t make a claim against someone who you know has no money to pay you back, such as an unemployed person.

Before running to the court to make a claim, first contact the person you intend to claim from and ask them to fulfil your request. Let them know you are planning on going to the court to make a claim against them if they don’t comply.

Perhaps the person is not interested in your claim, then send them a written demand letter. The letter should set out the details of the claim, including the amount. Give them at least 14 days from the day of receiving your letter to settle your claim. Make sure they get an actual physical copy of the letter. This can be posted to them, or you can simply take it to them directly.

So 14 days has passed and they didn’t respond. Now you can go to the clerk of the court with documents to institute your claim. Firstly, you will need proof that you delivered the letter of demand. This can be a post office slip, for example. You will also need a contract or document that gives a bases for your claim. Your claims can’t just be based on thin air. Lastly, provide the court with all the details of the person you’re claiming from, such as name, address and phone number.

The summons

The clerk of the court will help you in drawing up the summons. Once the summons is complete a hearing will also be scheduled. You then have to serve the summons to the opposing party (defendant) in person and get them to sign it. Don’t be surprised if they are visibly upset. Remember to make copies of all the documents and keep them. Also give copies to the defendant. The original documents must be handed over to the clerk of the court before the day of the hearing. This information will be kept in the court file.

After they receive the summons, the defendant may deliver a plea (written statement) to the clerk of the court. They may also issue a counterclaim. Regardless of whether the defended institutes a plea or counterclaim, they still have to attend the hearing. On the other hand, the defendant may decide to fulfil your claim before the hearing, you should then issue a written receipt and let the clerk of the court know that you won’t be continuing with the case.

Going to the hearing

You and the defendant must appear in court in person, attorneys or lawyers are not necessary. Remember to bring along all the documents on which your claim is based, there’s no point in showing up empty-handed. If you have witnesses, make sure they also come with you to the hearing. The SCC proceedings are basic and straight-forward. As mentioned, no attorneys are involved. As the proceedings begin, answer any questions that the commissioner of the court asks you. If you want and the commissioner agrees, then you can direct questions to the defendant.

The final judgement

After the proceedings have been completed, the court will make a judgement, which is final. There may, however, be some grounds for review. If the judgement is against you, then you should settle any order for costs. Since the court judgement is final, you have to abide by it. You can’t change your mind afterwards.

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)

CO-OWNING PROPERTY WITH SOMEONE ELSE: THE UPS AND DOWNS

What is co-ownership?

Co-ownership is when one or more people jointly own the same property. In essence, it is when they legally share ownership without dividing the property into physical portions for their exclusive use. It is thus commonly referred to as co-ownership in undivided shares.

It is possible to agree that owners acquire the property in different shares; for instance, one person owns 70 percent and the other 30 percent of the single property. The different shares can be recorded and registered in the title deeds by the Deeds Office.

The benefits

On paper, it’s a great idea. For starters, the bond repayments and costs of maintaining the home are halved. However, there can be problems and although not every friendship or relationship is destined to disintegrate, there does often come a time when one of the parties involved wants to sell up and move on to bigger and better things.

The risks

If ownership is given to one or more purchasers, without stipulating in what shares they acquire the property, it is legally presumed that they acquired the property in equal shares.

The risks, the benefits and the obligations that flow from the property are shared in proportion to each person’s share of ownership in the property. For instance, one of the co-owners fails to contribute his share of the finances as initially agreed, resulting in creditors such as the bank or Body Corporate taking action to recover the shortfall.

Having an agreement

If two people own property together in undivided shares it is advisable to enter into an agreement which will regulate their rights and obligations if they should decide to go their own separate ways.

The practical difficulties that flow from the rights and duties of co-ownership are captured by the expression communio est mater rixarum or “co-ownership is the mother of disputes”. It is therefore important that, when the agreement the co-owners entered into does not help them solve disputes, certain remedies are available to them.

The agreement should address the following issues:

  1. In what proportion will the property be shared?
  2. Who has the sole right to occupy the property?
  3. Who will contribute what initial payments to acquire the property.
  4. Who will contribute what amounts to the ongoing future costs and finances.
  5. How the profits or losses will be split, should the property or a share be sold?
  6. The sale of one party’s share must be restricted or regulated.
  7. The right to draw funds out of the access bond must be regulated.
  8. A breakdown of the relationship between the parties.
  9. Death or incapacity of one of the parties.
  10. Dispute resolution options before issuing summons.
  11. Termination of the agreement.

References:

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)

CAN I BE PROSECUTED FOR BREAKING THE SPEED LIMIT?

Mandie is cruising along at 31 km/h over the speed limit in an attempt to keep up with the rest of the cars on the road. She thinks she is simply going with the flow of the traffic when suddenly she sees flashing lights in her rear-view mirror. Mandie does not take traffic laws seriously and has come to accept traffic fines as a “fact of life”. She regards transgression as bending the rules rather than the commitment of a crime.

Months later, when the traffic notice arrives in the post, Mandie prepares herself for a speeding fine but is shocked when the notice informs her that she has to appear in court. Unknown to Mandie and most other South Africans, an amendment to Section 35 of the National Road Traffic Act (the Act) was enacted in 2010. This means the driver of a motor vehicle that exceeds the maximum speed limit by more than 30 km/h may be criminally prosecuted and that, if convicted, his/her driver’s license may also be suspended.

This provision could be disastrous for many road users. Not only is Mandie required to appear in court, but she could also face the prospect of having her license suspended and, what’s more, receive a criminal record.

Section 35 of the National Road Traffic Act:

  1. In terms of Section 35(1)(aA)(i) and (ii) the phrase “in excess of” means a speed of 31 km/h or more over the speed limit in an urban area and a speed of 41km/h or more over the speed limit outside an urban area or on a freeway.
  2. If you commit any one of these offences and are stopped at the time of the offence, you will be arrested. You will accordingly be released on bail to appear in court on a stipulated date and time.
  3. If you are not stopped at the time, you will receive a notification in the post that you will be summonsed to appear in court in a “No Admission of Guilt” matter.

The consequences

The notice will inform you that a summons in terms of Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Act will be issued and served on you. Failure to appear in court on a criminal summons will lead to a warrant for your arrest being issued.

The Act requires a person to be convicted of an alleged offence before legal consequences follow. Since speeding as described above is a criminal offence, the State will still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is guilty of such offence.

Furthermore, the suspension of your driver’s license for the period stipulated in the Act is not an optional requirement. It is a mandatory suspension period. One’s license will be suspended for six months in the case of a first offence. Where a person is found guilty of a second offence, his/her license may be suspended for five years and, in the case of the third or subsequent offence, for ten years.

Although many judicial officers (magistrates) have interpreted Section 35(3) as giving them discretion about suspension of your license, it does not mean that if suspending your driver’s license will prejudice you, your license will not be suspended.

Conclusion

The simple principle is that speeding can have dramatic consequences, so do not speed under any circumstances.

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 YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ESTATE PLANNING

The main aim of planning your estate is to ensure that as much of the accumulated wealth is utilised for your own benefit and for the benefit of your dependents on your death.

What is estate planning?

“Estate planning” has been defined as the process of creating and managing a programme that is designed to:

  1. Preserve, increase and protect your assets during your lifetime;
  2. Ensure the most effective and beneficial distribution thereof to succeeding generations.

It is a common misconception that it revolves solely around the making of a Last Will and Testament, or the structuring of affairs so as to reduce estate duty. Each person’s estate is unique and should be structured according to his/her own unique set of circumstances, goals and objectives.

What is liquidity?

The lack of liquidity on the date of death may cause for the deceased’s family members and dependents to suffer hardship, as certain assets might be sold by the executor to generate the cash needed.

Liquidity means that there should be enough cash funds to provide for:

  1. Paying estate duty;Settling estate liabilities and administration costs;
  2. Settling estate liabilities and administration costs;Providing for other taxation liabilities that may arise at death, such as capital gains tax.
  3. Providing for other taxation liabilities that may arise at death, such as capital gains tax.

Technically the estate is frozen until such time as the Master of the High Court has issued Letters of Executorship.

Having no will…

If you die without executing a valid Last Will and Testament, your estate will be dealt with as an intestate estate, and the laws relating to intestate succession will apply. The Intestate Succession Act determines that the surviving spouse will inherit the greater of R250 000 or a child’s share. A child’s share is determined by dividing the total value of the estate by the number of the children and the surviving spouse. If the spouses were married in community of property, one half of the estate goes to the surviving spouse as a consequence of the marriage, and the other half devolves according to the rules of intestate succession. If there is no surviving spouse or dependents, the estate is divided between the parents and/or siblings. In the absence of parents or siblings, the estate is divided between the nearest blood relatives.

The executor remuneration

Executor’s remuneration is subject to VAT where the executor is registered as a vendor.

Where the value of the estate exceeds R3.5 million, estate duty will become payable on the balance in excess of R3.5 million, with the exception of the property bequeathed to a surviving spouse, which is exempt from estate duty and/or capital gains tax.

Land

Section 3 of the Subdivision of Agricultural Land Act prevents the subdivision of agricultural land, and such land being registered in undivided shares in more than one person’s name is subject to Ministerial approval.

Minor children

A minor child is a person under the age of 18 years of age. Any funds bequeathed to a minor child will be held by the Guardian’s Fund, which falls under the administration of the Master of the High Court. These funds are not freely accessible, and are usually invested at below market interest rates. It is thus advisable to provide for minors by means of a trust.

Member’s interest

The Close Corporations Act provides that, subject to the association agreement, where an heir is to inherit a member’s interest (in terms of the deceased’s Will), the consent of the remaining members (if any) must be obtained. If no consent is given within 28 days after it was requested by the executor, then the executor is forced to sell the member's interest.

Estate duty

Section 3(3)(d) of Estate Duty Act determines that where an asset is transferred to a trust during an estate planner’s lifetime, yet the estate planner, as trustee of the trust retains such power as would allow him to dispose of the trust asset(s) unilaterally for his own or his beneficiaries’ benefit during his lifetime, then such asset(s) may be deemed to be property of the estate planner and included in his estate for estate duty purposes.

In community of property

Where the parties are married in community of property, the surviving spouse will have a claim for 50 percent of the value of the combined estate, thus reducing the actual value of the estate by 50 percent. 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). Only half of any assets can be bequeathed.

Life insurance

The proceeds from life insurance policies can be used to:

  1. Generate income to maintain dependents while the estate is dealt with;
  2. Pay estate expenses: funeral, income tax, estate administration, estate duty.

All proceeds of South African “domestic” policies taken out on the estate planner’s life, where there is no beneficiary nominated on the policy, will fall into his estate on his death.

Where a beneficiary is nominated on the policy, the proceeds will be deemed property for estate duty purposes, even though they are paid directly to the beneficiary (subject to partial exemptions based on policy premiums).

Policies which are exempted from inclusion for estate duty purposes are buy and sell, key man policies, and those policies ceded to a spouse or child in terms of an antenuptial contract.

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)