Words matter when drawing up your will

Words matter when drawing up your will

Private Property South Africa
Sarah-Jane Meyer

As a property owner, you may have very definite ideas of how it should be used once you die. However, your heirs may end up disagreeing among themselves. Some might want to sell the property outright and use the cash, and others might wish to let the property for income and capital growth or keep the property in the family. Others may want to keep it for their own use.

If they decide to keep it, your heirs may disagree about the arrangements for managing the property. For example, how will maintenance and improvements be managed? Who will be responsible for cleaning the house and maintaining the garden? Will family members be allowed to let the property to friends periodically? Who will have the use of the property during holidays?

To be quite sure your heirs get what is due to them and carry out your wishes, you need to clearly stipulate how your assets are to be divided.

Fixed property

“All too often, someone will draw up a will in which it is not clear what the position of relatives or friends who have been allowed to live in a property will be once the benefactor dies,” says Ulrik Strandvik of Gunston Strandvik Attorneys.

“Questions that arise include whether or not they should be paying rent. Are they responsible for the upkeep of the property? Is the arrangement intended to be temporary, semi-permanent or for the life of the occupants?

“We have seen that a lack of clarity in these matters can lead to claims from the other beneficiaries to the will. They understandably feel that although they have inherited the property, they are receiving little or no benefit from it because someone else has been allowed to occupy it.”

He says that when an estate is to be wound up, and there is no one to hold the family together, heirs all too easily end up at loggerheads with one another over matters such as this.

“In one case, two surviving children inherited three rent-earning properties. The understanding was that they would inherit these properties equally and, if possible, keep them as income earners. However, the will didn’t specify which heir was to inherit which property. Because one property was clearly more valuable than the other two, this led to unnecessary disputes.

“If the will had clearly set out the matter, all these problems would have been avoided.”

Plain language

When drafting your will, Strandvik says, it’s important to use plain language and avoid ambiguous words and phrasing so that your true intention is reflected in the document.

This is one of the reasons it makes sense to have a will drawn up professionally by someone who has a thorough knowledge of the practical implications and legal consequences of a will.

Seek qualified, professional assistance to ensure your will accurately reflects your final wishes, it’s best to consult an attorney specialising in wills and deceased estate management or a financial adviser with specialist fiduciary expertise.

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