PLANNING YOUR ESTATE AS NEWLYWEDS

For newlyweds, one of the most important tasks to attend to is estate planning. The estate planning will depend on what the couple wants and what form of marriage they are in. It is therefore important to keep the following in mind when planning the years ahead together.

Marriage in community of property

There is a joint estate, with each spouse having a 50 percent share in each and every asset in the estate (no matter in whose name it is registered);

  1. In the event of the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse will have a claim for 50 percent of the value of the combined estate. The estate is divided after all the debts have been settled in a deceased 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.

Marriage out of community of property without the accrual system

Each estate planner (spouse) retains possession of assets owned prior to the marriage. Each spouse’s estate is completely separated, even in the event of death. If you want your spouse to inherit something, you would need to outline this in your Will.

Marriage out of community of property with the accrual system

This is identical to a “marriage out of community of property” but the accrual system will be applicable. The accrual system is a formula that is used to calculate how much the larger estate must pay the smaller estate once the marriage comes to an end through death or divorce.

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)

CUSTOMARY MARRIAGES AND COMMUNITY OF PROPERTY

Since the promulgation of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, 120 of 1998, the position has changed in that customary marriages are now recognised in our law. A marriage that is valid in terms of customary law and was in existence at the time of commencement of the Act, is for all purposes recognised as a marriage in terms of the Act. In the case of a person being in more than one customary marriage, all valid customary marriages entered into before the commencement of the Act, are for all purposes recognised as valid marriages in terms of the Act.

This also means that customary marriages will fall under community of property. For a customary marriage not to fall under community of property, an ante nuptial contract must be in place.

What is a customary marriage?

  • It is a marriage entered into between a man and a woman, negotiated and celebrated according to the prevailing customary law in their community.
  • A customary marriage entered into before 15 November 2000 is recognised as a valid marriage, however, it will be regulated in terms of the specific traditions and customs applicable at the time the marriage was entered into.
  • A customary marriage entered into after 15 November 2000 is recognised as a valid marriage and will receive full legal protection irrespective of whether it is monogamous or polygamous.
  • A monogamous customary marriage will automatically be in community of property, unless it is stipulated otherwise in an ante nuptial contract.

In a polygamous marriage, the husband must apply to the High Court for permission to enter into such a marriage and provide the court with a written contract stating how the property in the marriages will be regulated (to protect the property interests of both the existing and prospective spouses).

Registering Customary Marriages

Customary marriages must be registered within three months of taking place. This can be done at any office of the Department of Home Affairs or through a designated traditional leader in areas where there are no Home Affairs offices.

The following people should present themselves at either a Home Affairs office or a traditional leader in order to register a customary marriage:

  • The two spouses (with copies of their valid identity books and a lobola agreement, if available).
  • At least one witness from the bride’s family.
  • At least one witness from the groom’s family.
  • And/or the representative of each of the families.

In the event that the spouses were minors (or one was a minor) at the time of the customary marriage, the parents should also be present when the request to register the marriage is made.

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)

DO I NEED AN ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACT BEFORE MARRIAGE?

An antenuptial contract is an important document that, under South African law, determines whether your marriage will exist in community of property or out of community of property, with or without the accrual system.

An antenuptial contract offers a number of benefits:

  1. Preventing your intended marriage from automatically being in community of property
  2. Offering transparency in your relationship by recording the rights, duties and consequences (legal and proprietary) of your marriage
  3. Preventing unnecessary disputes with your spouse down the line

What is marriage in community of property

There is one estate between a husband and a wife. Property and debts acquired prior to or during the marriage are shared equally in undivided shares (50%). Both spouses are jointly liable to creditors.

What is an Antenuptial contract?

A contract entered into to regulate whether a marriage will be out of community of property with/without the accrual system. An antenuptial contract must be signed by the persons entering into a marriage, two witnesses and a notary public, and it must be registered in the Deeds Registries office within the prescribed time period.

The accrual system

In a marriage out of community of property WITHOUT the accrual system, the spouses have their own estates which contain property and debts acquired prior to and during the marriage (“what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours”). Each spouse is separately liable to his/her creditors. Prior to the marriage, an antenuptial contract must be entered into to indicate that the marriage will be out of community of property.

A marriage out of community of property WITH the accrual system is identical to a “marriage out of community of property” but the accrual system will be applicable. The accrual system is a formula that is used to calculate how much the larger estate must pay the smaller estate once the marriage comes to an end through death or divorce. Only property acquired during the marriage can be considered when calculating the accrual. The accrual system does not automatically apply and must be included in an antenuptial contract.

Conclusion

After marriage, the terms of the antenuptial contract become irrevocable unless they are amended by an order of the Supreme Court or, in some cases, by a notarial contract which must be registered in a deeds registry.

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)

VALIDITY OF ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACTS

One must be careful when drafting and signing an Antenuptial Contract. Aside from ensuring that the contents is all correct, one must also ensure that all the necessary provisions are contained therein to make the contract valid. The consequences of neglecting to do so may result in a marriage in community of property even though the parties had no intention of this at the time of their marriage.

Attorneys are often trusted with the task of drafting an Antenuptial Contract. This is a contract, which one signs to regulate the property regime of a marriage. If a couple does not sign, an Antenuptial Contract then the marital property regime will be that of in community of property. The presence of an Antenuptial Contract means that the marital property regime is that of out of community of property and the parties must specifically stipulate whether they would like the accrual system to apply to their marriage or not.

The importance of ensuring that all the necessary provisions are contained in the Antenuptial Contract to result in a valid contract was discussed in the 2014 Supreme Court of Appeal Case of B v B[1]. In this case, no values were stated in respect of any of the assets listed in the Antenuptial Contract and they were also not properly identified. In B v B the court stated that if the terms of a contract are so vague and incoherent as to be incapable of a sensible construction then the contract must be regarded as void for vagueness.[2]

According to Section 6(1) of the Matrimonial Property Act[3] ,a party to an intended marriage which does not, for the purpose of proof of the value of his or her estate at the time of the commencement of the marriage, declare the value in the contract, then he or she may do so within six months of the marriage in a statement attested to by a notary. If this is not done, according to Section 6(4) of the Marital Property Act, the net value of the estate of a spouse is then deemed to be nil at the time of the marriage. In effect, such a contract is valid but it will effectively render the marriage in community of property since nothing was excluded from the accrual.

However, if a contract is contradictory and incoherent in other respects then it cannot be seen as a valid contract since there is no certainty as to the meaning of the contract and what the parties seek to achieve. This means that the contract would not embody terms that would enable to court to give effect to the intention of the parties at the time the contract was concluded.

The result of such a contract is that the Antenuptial Contract would be void for vagueness and that the marital property regime would be the default position according to the Marital Property Act, which is in community of property.

Therefore, parties are encouraged to read their contracts thoroughly and ensure that they understand the terms thereof and that the contract embodies their intentions without any further explanations or evidence.

[1] (952/12) [2014] ZASCA 14 (24 March 2014).

[2] B v B (952/12) [2014] ZASCA 14 (24 March 2014) par 7.

[3] 88 of 1984.

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.