THE BASICS OF CREATING A LAST WILL & TESTAMENT

Who your property is passed on to depends on whether you have a valid will or not. If you do have a valid will, then your property will be divided according to your wishes stated therein. If you die without a will (called “intestate”), then your property will be divided amongst your immediate family according to the laws of intestate succession.

How can I create a Will?

If you are older than 16, you have the right to create a will, to state who you would want your property to go to when you die. In order for your will to be valid, it needs to be compiled in the proper way.

  1. According to the law, you have to be mentally competent when you compile your will; this means that you must understand the consequences of creating a will and that you must also be in a reasonable state of mind when you do so.
  2. You must make sure that your will is in writing in order for it to be valid.
  3. Two people older than 14 years must witness the creating of your will (these witnesses cannot be beneficiaries).
  4. You have to initialise every page of the will and then sign the last page. The witnesses must also initialise and sign the will.
  5. You can, and should, approach a lawyer to help you draw up your will to avoid creating an invalid will.

You can appoint an executor in your will to divide your property amongst your loved ones. An executor is the person who will make sure that your property is divided according to your wishes, as set out in your will, and he/she will also settle your outstanding debts. If you don’t choose an executor yourself, then the court will appoint someone, which is usually a family member.

What are the risks of not having a Will?

If you don’t have a valid will when you die, your property will be divided according to the rules set out by the law. These rules state that a married person’s property will be divided equally amongst their spouse and children. If you don’t have a spouse or any children, then your property will be divided between other family members. If you also don’t have any blood relatives, then the property will be given to the government. You might think that you do not need a will, as your family will divide your possessions amongst each other, but you must keep in mind that delays in dealing with your estate could affect your family negatively; they might be relying on their inheritance for an income.

  • The beneficiaries of your estate will be determined according to the laws of intestate succession, if you die without a will.
  • This law determines the distribution of your assets to your closest blood relatives, meaning that your assets may be sold or split up against your wishes.
  • Some of your assets could be given to someone in your family that you did not intent to benefit from your estate.
  • Without a will, you cannot leave a specific item to a specific family member or friend.
  • If you live with someone but are not married to them, the law will not necessarily recognise him/her as a beneficiary of your estate, unless you have left a will naming them as a beneficiary.

References:

  • Western Cape Government. (2017). Making a Will. [online] Available at: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/service/making-will [Accessed 22 Jun. 2017].
  • Momentum.co.za. (2017). Drafting a will and setting up a trust. [online] Available at: https://www.momentum.co.za/wps/wcm/connect/momV1/f150ba2e-3724-4b42-9265-332106cb6b83/drafting a will_E vs 2 (07032013)[1].pdf?MOD=AJPERES [Accessed 22 Jun. 2017].

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 A COHABITATION CONTRACT WITH MY PARTNER?

Cohabitation is a relationship between two people who choose to live together in a monogamous and stable environment. Couples who decide on cohabitation could do so, prior to getting married, as an alternative to marriage, or while they are still in the process of divorce and are already living with their new partner.

The differences between marriage and cohabitation are as follows:

  1. No legal protection if/when the partnership ends.
  2. Claiming maintenance after a separation could be more difficult/impossible.
  3. No court is required to end the relationship.
  4. Partners won’t necessarily inherit from each other.
  5. Cohabitants cannot insure each other’s property.

What happens if there is no written cohabitation agreement?

  • If there is no agreement on the dissolution of a relationship, a person is only entitled to retain the property which s/he has purchased and owns.
  • The couple would be entitled to share in the property proportionately in terms of the contribution which they have made to the relationship. Each person will need to prove what property they have acquired together in order to get back what they are entitled to.
  • If a dispute arises, a court may be approached for assistance.

How are couples protected in cohabitation?

  • In order to protect the couple in cohabitation, rights and obligations of the couple can be protected by way of entering into a cohabitation agreement. The agreement regulates the relationship during its existence and after it has come to an end.
  • A cohabitation agreement can be entered into verbally or in writing. It is recommended that such an agreement be concluded in writing and signed.
  • The agreement can be concluded at any time during the relationship.

A cohabitation contract

If two partners have decided to live together it would be beneficial to have a contract drawn up. These are some elements the contract could contain:

  1. Household expenses: Who is responsible for paying what and from whose account?
  2. Joint property: If you want joint assets rather than separate assets.
  3. Joint home: If you want a home to be registered in both names of the partners, however, the partners don’t have to have equal shares in the property.
  4. End of relationship: Deciding what will happen with each other’s assets after the relationship ends and whether or not one partner will be able to receive maintenance from the other.
  5. Children: If there’s a child, the parental rights and responsibilities should be set out, but this has to be done with legal advice first and should be registered.

Conclusion

Cohabitation can be successful in and of itself, but without a contract, there are no ‘safety nets’. This could prove a mistake in relationships where property or a child is involved.

Reference:

  • Anderson, AM. Dodd, A. Roos, MC. 2012. “Everyone’s Guide to South African Law. Third Edition”. Zebra Press.

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)

IS THE TENANT OR LANDLORD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WATER LEAKS?

Questions, and sometimes disputes, often arise between landlords and tenants regarding where the responsibility lies with the maintenance of a property. The simple answer is that tenants can generally only be held responsible for repairs/replacement on the property if the damage was caused by the tenant’s actions, or items that have a short life span, such as light bulbs.

On the other hand, alarm systems, auto gates and doors, locks, fixtures and fittings, appliances, or anything provided to the tenant are generally the responsibility of the owner to repair, unless damaged by the tenant.

Fair wear and tear

Damage due to fair wear and tear is the owner’s responsibility to correct. This includes situations where the property has, over time, experienced wear due to its use or age.

Examples would include:

  1. Fireplace chimneys: The landlord should maintain the fireplace e.g. having the chimney cleaned at appropriate intervals. Gardens, however, would require the tenant to do general maintenance.
  2. Blocked drains: This is usually due to tenant usage making it the tenant’s responsibility, but if blockage is due to tree roots, it would be the landlord’s responsibility.

Regarding appliances, as with any fixture or fitting, the landlord is responsible for repairs to appliances provided under the tenancy agreement unless the damage was caused by the tenant’s deliberate actions or negligence.

Tenants should report any damage on the property. If they fail to do this, they could find themselves held liable for any further damage due to lack of immediate attention to the initial problem. Furthermore, tenants are obliged to provide access for contractors to effect repairs.

Conclusion

If there is a water leak on the property, it would most likely be the landlord’s responsibility to fix. It is advisable for tenants to read and understand the lease agreement fully and for landlords to list as much as possible that needs to be maintained by the tenant. For example, if the unit has a garden that the tenant is responsible for maintaining, this should be mentioned in the lease.

Reference:

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)

RENTING PROPERTY TO FOREIGNERS

Renting property in South Africa is a straightforward process. The country has a vast selection of rental accommodation including bachelor flats in apartment blocks, Victorian cottages, stand-alone houses with big gardens, and semi-detached units in modern townhouse complexes.

In South Africa, the right of a foreigner to purchase immovable property was restricted in the past by the Aliens Control Act. These restrictions were uplifted in 2003 by the new Immigration Act (“the Act”) which repealed the Aliens Control Act and many of its restrictive provisions and now clearly defines who a legal foreigner is and who is not. In short, a legal foreigner is a person in possession of a valid temporary residence permit or a permanent residence permit approved by the Department of Home Affairs.

The new Act makes provision for various temporary residence permits to be issued to foreigners, including amongst others:

  • A visitor’s permit
  • A work and entrepreneurial permit
  • A retired person permit

In principle, a landlord or tenant can legitimately lease or sell immovable property to any person recognised under the Act as a legal foreigner.

That said, foreigners working in South Africa with a legal work permit, are not regarded as “non-residents” by the South African Reserve Bank. They are considered to be residents for the duration of the period of their work permit and are therefore not restricted to a loan of only 50% of the purchase price.

It is also important to take note that the Act criminalizes the letting or selling of immovable property to an illegal foreigner by making this transaction equivalent to the aiding and abetting of an illegal foreigner and is such an act classified as a criminal offence in terms of the Act.

In conclusion, a legal foreigner may let or buy immovable property in South Africa, provided that he is the holder of either a legal temporary residence permit or a permanent residence permit approved by the Department of Home Affairs. Ensure that you enquire from your potential tenant or purchaser whether they are legally present in South Africa and obtain the necessary proof from them before entering into any transaction with a foreigner. Also, take account of the restrictions on local financing, particularly where the procurement of financing is a condition precedent to 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)

OWNING PROPERTY WITHOUT A WILL

If you die without a Will, an administrator will have to be appointed to administer your estate which will be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession. As such, your assets may not be distributed as you would have wished. It also means that the process will be delayed and that there will be additional expense and frustration which most people would not want to inflict on their loved ones during a time of loss.

Marriage and property

When drafting your Will, it’s important to consider the nature of your relationship with your ‘significant other’. If you are married in community of property, you only own half of all assets registered in your name and that of your spouse. Your spouse therefore still remains a one half share owner of any fixed property you may want to bequeath to a third party which could potentially present difficulties.

If you are married in terms of the accrual regime, the calculation to determine which spouse has a claim against the other to equalise the growth of the respective estates only occurs at death. Your spouse may therefore have a substantial claim against your estate necessitating the sale of assets you had not intended to be sold.

Alongside your Will, you should also prepare the following in relation to any immovable property you may own:

  1. State where your title deeds are kept and record any outstanding bonds and all insurance
  2. File up-to-date rates and taxes receipts
  3. Record details of the leases on any property you have
  4. State who collects your rent
  5. State who compiles your yearly accounts
  6. State where your water, lights and refuse deposit receipts are kept

If you die without a Will

According to the according to Intestate Succession Act, 1987, your estate will be distributed as follows:

  1. Only spouse survives: Entire estate goes to spouse.
  2. Only descendants survive: Estate is divided between descendants.
  3. Spouse & descendants survive: The spouse gets R250 000 or a child’s share and the balance is divided equally between the spouse and descendants.
  4. Both parents survive: Total share is divided equally between both parents.
  5. One parent: Total Estate goes to the parent.
  6. One parent & descendants: Half the Estate goes to the parent; balance is divided equally amongst descendants.
  7. No spouse; No descendants; No parents; but descendants through mother & descendants through father: Estate divided into two parts: half to descendants through mother; half to descendants through father.
  8. No spouse; No descendants; No parents; No descendants through mother or father: Full Proceeds of the Estate has to be paid into the Guardians Fund in the event of no descendants whatsoever.

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)

WHAT DOES THE DEEDS OFFICE DO?

The Deeds Office is responsible for the registration, management and maintenance of the property registry of South Africa. If you are planning on buying a house, it can be useful knowing about the Deeds Office. However, you would use the services of a conveyancer when buying or selling a house. Your estate agent should be able to recommend a conveyancing attorney to register your home loan and transfer a property into your name.

What is conveyancing?

Conveyancing is the legal term for the process whereby a person, company, close corporation or trust becomes the registered and legal owner of immovable property and ensures that this ownership cannot be challenged. It also covers the process of the registration of mortgages.

Steps taken by the conveyancer:

  1. The conveyancer lodges your title deed and other documents in the Deeds Office for registration. These documents will be individually captured on the system. If there is a bond, the conveyancer dealing with the bond will lodge the bond documents with the Deeds Office at the same time as the transfer documents. The transfer, bond and cancellation documents must be lodged in the Deeds Office at the same time to ensure simultaneous registration. If different conveyancers are dealing with registering the purchaser’s bond and cancelling the seller’s bond, then they will need to collaborate.
  2. The Deeds Office examiners go through the documentation that has been submitted, and make sure that it complies with the relevant laws and legislations.
  3. The examiners then inform the conveyancer that the deeds are ready to be registered.
  4. Registration takes place with the conveyancer and Registrar of Deeds present. The transfer of the property is then registered in the purchaser’s name. If there is a bond, it is registered at the same time.
  5. Upon registration, the purchaser becomes the lawful owner of the property. The title deed that reflects this ownership is given to the conveyancer by the deeds office after the registration. Unless a bond has been registered as well, in which case the title deed is given to the bond holder.

The time taken to register a property at the Deeds Office depends on various factors and a number of parties. On average, registering a property transfer takes six to eight weeks, although unforeseen difficulties can cause the period to be extended.

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)

MY DOG JUST ATTACKED SOMEONE

Due to circumstances beyond your control your dog bites someone. There is blood, an injury, and a shocked and angry victim. Luckily it is a small wound, but before you can mouth an apology, the traumatised person storms off with the words: “You’ll pay for this; see you in court!”

Are you liable for the damage caused by your dog?

Well, you could be, depending on the circumstances. Damages caused by a pet can be claimed from the owner through the Actio de Pauperie. You will be liable for damages if the complainant is successful in proving:

  1. that you were the owner of the animal at the time of infliction of the injury;
  1. that the animal is domesticated;
  1. that the animal acted contrary to the nature of a domesticated animal; and
  1. that the conduct of the animal caused the plaintiff’s damage.

How can you defend your dog?

The onus will be on you, as owner of the dog, to prove a valid defence. You will not be liable for the complainant’s damages if you can successfully prove:

  1. that your poor dog was provoked by the culpable conduct of the complainant;
  1. that someone else was in charge of your dog when the injury was inflicted, in other words a third party had control over the animal and the damage occurred due to that person’s negligence;
  1. the unlawful presence of the plaintiff on the premises, in other words that the injured person had no legal right to be there;
  1. that the plaintiff knew of the risk and voluntarily accepted the risk; and
  1. that the owner is not responsible for damages caused by his animal in terms of an existing indemnity agreement between the parties.

The circumstances and actions of the injured person will determine what happens. If someone came onto your property uninvited and got attacked by your dog, then it’s not your fault. However, if you were walking your dog in the park and they randomly attacked someone, without being provoked, then you are liable.

Owning a dog can be a very rewarding experience and a boundless source of unconditional love, but at the same time it also brings great responsibility. If you own a dog, you also have a responsibility to prevent it from causing harm to anyone or their property.

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)

IS MY TENANT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WORN OUT CARPET?

There are several damages a landlord can deduct from a tenant’s deposit. However, there are certain household items that will experience normal wear and tear over time. This is referred to as “fair wear and tear”.

Fair wear and tear is seen as damage or loss to an item at the property which happens as a result of ordinary use and exposure over time.

According to the Rental Housing Act, a landlord is free to claim compensation for damage to the property caused by the tenant, except for fair wear and tear.

It’s important to remember that the original condition and age of the item at commencement of the lease agreement needs to be taken into account, and therefore cost of depreciation of the item due to normal wear. Paint fades, doors and walls get scuffed with use, and everything wears or breaks over time, even with a tenant who really cares for the property, and one can’t hold a tenant liable for this.

If a tenant or landlord has a problem, they can go to the Rental Housing Tribunal to resolve it.

The Rental Housing Tribunal

The Rental Housing Tribunal is a useful resource for both landlords and tenants who are dealing with rental property disputes in different forms. Cases that the Rental Housing Tribunal deals with include:

  1. Tenants defaulting on their rent
  2. Failure to repay a deposit
  3. Invasion of a tenant’s privacy
  4. Overcrowding of a rental property
  5. Determining a fair rental amount
  6. Illegal seizing of a tenant’s property
  7. Discrimination against a prospective tenant
  8. A receipt for rent not being issued
  9. Unacceptable behaviour by a tenant
  10. Lack of maintenance and repairs to the property
  11. Illegally refuse a tenant access to the property or interrupt services
  12. Unacceptable living conditions

A general rule of thumb is that, if a tenant has damaged something that does not normally wear out, or the tenant has substantially shortened the life of something that does wear out, the tenant may be charged the prorated cost of the item. The landlord should take into account how old the item was and how long it may have lasted otherwise, as well as the cost of replacement.

Conclusion

Ordinary wear and tear to carpets should not count against the tenant, however large rips or stains would be considered damage. Any deduction for the tenant’s deposit should take into account the age of the carpets, compared with the expected total time of usage.

Reference list:

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)

SUSPENSIVE CONDITIONS IN A DEED OF SALE: KNOW YOUR OBLIGATIONS

Imagine signing a deed of sale for your dream house and later discovering that the contract lapsed because you obtained bond approval one day too late. The situation could be worsened if the Seller receives a better offer for the house and accepts that better offer.

If a deed of sale is made subject to a suspensive condition, it will lapse if such condition is not fulfilled in time. This was confirmed in the case of Marais v Kovacs Investments 724 (Pty) Ltd [2009] 1 All SA 174 (C) (hereinafter referred to as “the Marais case”). There is then no contract for the sale of the property between the two parties and the Seller can sell the property to another purchaser.

Examples of suspensive conditions are obtaining bond approval before a certain date, or the sale of the Purchaser’s current property before a certain date. It is very important for both the Seller and Purchaser to take note of the wording of these conditions and ensure that they understand them.

The following is an example of the wording of a suspensive condition relating to a bond, also sometimes referred to as a “bond condition”:

This Deed of Sale is subject to the Purchaser obtaining bond approval from a financial institution for the amount of R1 500 000 before 2 December 2013, failing which this agreement will lapse.

In the above example, if only R1 400 000 is approved before 2 December 2013, in other words R100 000 less than the required amount, then the condition is not met and the contract will lapse. Similarly, if a bond is approved for R1 500 000 but only on 5 December 2013, then the condition is not met in time and the contract will lapse, as was decided in the case of Meyer v Barnardo and another 1984 (2) SA 580 (N).

The parties can however agree to extend the time during which the suspensive condition must be fulfilled. Such extension must be in writing and signed by both the Seller and Purchaser as per the requirements of the Alienation of Land Act 68 of 1981. It must also be done before the time limit of the suspensive condition expires. In the above “bond condition” clause example, this would mean that the parties would have to sign the extension before 2 December 2013 to prevent the Deed of Sale from lapsing. In the Marais case the court held that even if the suspensive condition had been inserted in the contract for the exclusive benefit of the Purchaser, the Purchaser would have had to communicate his intention to waive the requirement before it lapsed.

In the Marais case the parties entered into a written agreement of sale with a suspensive condition that a bond in the amount of R10 149 072 needed to be obtained by 15 August 2005. The Purchaser, however, only obtained a mortgage bond in the amount of R9 650 000, which was granted on 2 August 2005. The respondent’s attorneys argued that the suspensive condition had been substantially fulfilled because the shortfall was, in their opinion, only a “minor shortfall” and therefore an insignificant amount compared to the purchase price. The court did not agree with this and found that it could not be said that the parties intended the suspensive condition to be fulfilled in any way other than what was expressly stipulated in the Deed of Sale. The court found that the contract had therefore lapsed.

If a suspensive condition will not be fulfilled in time, rather take the necessary precautions beforehand to avoid a lapsed Deed of Sale. We advise that you contact a professional for advice in this regard.

Reference list:

  • Kontraktereg, UNISA 2004
  • Self-Study Conveyancing Course for Attorneys, Gawie le Roux, 2013
  • Alienation of Land Act 68 of 1981
  • Marais v Kovacs Investments 724 (Pty) Ltd [2009] 1 All SA 174 (C)
  • Meyer v Barnardo and another 1984 (2) SA 580 (N)

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)