When the last will is not the last word: What to do when a will is contested.

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 “If you want know what people are really like, see how they behave when money is involved”. The origin of this specific quote is not known, but the thinking behind it has been with mankind since people could own anything. And nothing changes when there is a death involved.

It is frequently reported how for example a previous wife inherits everything because the will was never updated or children are excluded from inheriting because of the influence of a new husband. Or even children fighting amongst themselves over verbal promises made in confidence, but not reflected in the will.

“Family feuds, allegations of fraud and greed are all reasons for wills to be contested,” says Ruann Kruger of Kruger & Co Incorporated. “When money is involved, people tend to fight. In many instances some family member, who is not named in a deceased person’s will, or excluded therefrom, may contest it. “They may allege that there is a later version of the will that should rank above any previous wills. Or in some cases someone feels that the will is being interpreted incorrectly by the executor.”

The will is the strongest document to adhere to the last wishes of a person and the Master of the High Court will always accept the latest will on condition that it complies with all the necessary requirements. Kruger says that is why it is advisable that your loved ones are informed of the whereabouts of your latest will, to curb this kind of fighting.

“But if there is a dispute on the legitimacy of a will, parties may have to approach the court to consider the disputes, and may delay the finalisation of the specific estate,” he says.

Kruger says that if all the beneficiaries or the last will and testament agree to vary or redistribute some of the assets, they may enter into a redistribution agreement amongst them.

For conflict resolution over an existing will or to update your current will in order to avoid putting your loved ones in a difficult situation, contact us.

The legal steps to take when someone dies

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Death is not pleasant to think about, but it is a certainty. So you should prepare for the event properly in order to save your loved ones from extra turmoil during their time of bereavement.

When someone dies the first official thing that happens is that a death certificate should be issued. According to Ruann Kruger from Kruger & Co Incorporated, the deceased person’s family should approach the Master of the High Court in order to complete the necessary forms to appoint an executor or curator.

“The forms consist of a summary of the deceased person’s assets and liabilities, details of the last will and testament, and who the heirs or beneficiaries of the deceased person is,” he says. “Once the Master of the High Court is in possession of all the required forms, the original will and supporting documents, the Master will appoint the Executor as the curator of the deceased estate in terms of a Letter of Authority. “It is very important that loved ones know where the most recent will is kept, to prevent any confusion or delays,” he says.

“The executor ensures that all outstanding debts of the deceased person is paid after all life insurance policies and other assets has been realized, and the funds paid are into the deceased estate’s bank account.” In short this person is responsible for making sure the deceased’s last wishes are implemented underlying to the law.

An executor can be a family member, friend or even a lawyer or bank. “The Executor is normally nominated in the deceased person’s Will, but can also be nominated by the heirs or beneficiaries,” says Kruger. “It should be someone who will be able to handle these affairs effectively and transparently. “The executor will receive remuneration of 3% of the total estate.”

One of the first things the executor does is to open a bank account in the name of the estate. “The Executor will then initiate the administration process like selling or distributing assets between nominated beneficiaries, settling debts, and prepare a liquidation and distribution account for the approval of the Master of the High Court.”

When there is no will the estate is automatically divided between the spouse (50%) and children (50%) of the deceased, but still managed by die executor.

Kruger & Co offer advice and consultation to bereaved family members and loved ones. Should this painful event occur, please contact us.

Godparents vs Guardians? What to keep in mind when appointing guardians for your children.

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It is a wonderful and joyous occasion when someone agrees to be the godparents of your children. Traditionally the godparent sponsored the baptism of a child and took an interest in the child’s upbringing and personal development. Godparents were seen as spiritual co-parents to their godchildren.

Later on the godparents also received the responsibility of looking after their godchildren should something happen to their natural parents. But unfortunately someone agreeing over a cup of tea or around a dinner table to be godparents does not legally mean anything today. You have to formally appoint legal guardians for your children in your will in the case of both parents passing away at the same time.

“You have to nominate guardians by adding their full personal details to your will,” says Ruann Kruger of Kruger & Co Incorporated. “It is the decision of the couple of who should be their children’s guardians. Family or friends are usually chosen, but it is a good idea to appoint someone who can look after the kids in terms of accommodation, finances and know-how.”

He says that furthermore you have to make sure you specify how your children should be looked after. “Any benefit that the minors are entitled to, can be held by Trust and administered by nominated Trustees until they reach a certain age,” he says. Kruger suggests that this age be closer to 25 when the children can make more responsible life and long-term choices instead of squandering their inheritance at 18.

He further suggests that the Trustees of the Testamentary Trust be at least one of the legally appointed guardians and one independent person in order to establish transparency in the administration of the Trust. If you do not have these measures in place, a court application must be brought for the appointment of legal guardians. While this process is going on, the children will be held in foster care.

For advice on formally appointing guardians for your children and stipulating this in an updated will, contact us.

When do you change your Will?

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Wondering how and when to change your will? You’re not alone. Lots of people change their wills with the arrival of children and grandchildren or when their financial situation has changed. Depending on what sort of change you’re making, you should either add to your will or write a new one. Ruann Kruger of Pretoria based law firm, provides some guidance to help you decide which option is best for you and answers the most frequently asked questions about changing a will.

Some people make up their mind quickly and never change it, while others change their mind every time a bird chirps. It is just the same with a will. Some people draw up their will once during their life and never change it. While others change it constantly. Angry at your wife? She’s out of the will. Kids come to visit? They are back in the will.

And according to law you are allowed to change your will as many times as you want.

“Your last will and testament is the final decision on how your belongings will be divided after your passing,” says Ruann Kruger of Kruger & Co Incorporated, a law firm in Pretoria. “You can change it as many times as you wish, but it is a good idea to adjust it with every big life change.” When you get married or divorced, when a child is added to your family, when someone is terminally ill or dies, when the law changes or when your financial situation changes are all good times to adjust your will.

“If you do not intend to change you will or testament,” says Kruger. “Ensure that you and your loved ones are sure where you latest will can be located when you pass on.” He says that a will should be fully signed by the owner of the will as well as two witnesses on all pages for it to be considered legal and binding. “If you intend to add or remove an heir or beneficiaries,” he says. “Any previous will or testament should be recalled, and the latest will shall stand and be of force.”

For more information on drawing up a new will or changing an existing us, contact us now.