IMPLICATIONS OF ESTATE DUTY

 Estate duty is charged on the dutiable value of the estate in terms of the Estate Duty Act. The general rule is that if the taxpayer is ordinarily resident in South Africa at the time of death, all of his/her assets (including deemed property), wherever they are situated, will be included in the gross value of his/her estate for the determination of duty payable thereon.

The current estate duty rate is 20% of the dutiable value of the estate. Foreigners/non-residents also pay estate duty on their South African property.

To minimise the effects of estate duty you need to understand the calculation thereof. The following provisions apply in determining your liability:

  1. Which property is to be included.
  2. Which property constitutes “deemed property”.
  3. Allowable deductions: the possible deductions that are allowed when calculating estate duty.

Property includes all property, or any right to property, including immovable or movable, corporeal or incorporeal – registered in the deceased’s name at the time of his/her death. It also includes certain types of annuities, and options to purchase land or shares, goodwill, and intellectual property.

Deemed property

1. Insurance policies

  • Includes proceeds of domestic insurance policies (payable in South Africa in South African currency [ZAR]), taken out on the life of the deceased, irrespective of who the owner (beneficiary) is.
  • The proceeds of such a policy are subject to estate duty, however this can be reduced by the amount of the premiums, plus interest at 6% per annum, to the extent that the premiums were paid by a third person (the beneficiary) entitled to the proceeds of the policy. Premiums paid by the deceased himself/herself are not deductible from the proceeds for estate duty purposes.
  • If the proceeds of a policy are payable to the surviving spouse or a child of the deceased in terms of a properly registered antenuptial contract (i.e. registered with the Deeds Office) the policy will be totally exempt from estate duty.
  • Where a policy is taken out on each other’s lives by business partners, and certain criteria are met, the proceeds are exempt from estate duty.

2. Donations at date of death

Donations where the donee will not benefit until the death of the donor and where the donation only materialises if the donor dies, are not subject to donations tax. These have to be included as an asset in the deceased estate and are subject to estate duty.

3. Claims in terms of the Matrimonial Property Act (accrual claim)

 An accrual claim that the estate of a deceased has against the surviving spouse is property deemed to be property in the deceased estate.

4. Property that the deceased was competent to dispose of immediately prior to his/her death (Section 3(3)(d) of the Estate Duty Act), like donating an asset to a trust, may be included as deemed property.

Deductions

Some of the most important allowable deductions are:

1. The cost of funeral, tombstone and deathbed expenses.

2. Debts due at date of death to persons who have their ordinary residence in South Africa.

3. The extent to which these debts are to be settled from property included in the estate. This includes the deceased’s income tax liability (which includes capital gains tax) for the period up to the date of death.

4. Foreign assets and rights:

  • The general rule is that foreign assets and rights of a South African resident, wherever situated, are included in his/her estate as assets.
  • However, the value thereof can be deducted for estate duty purposes where such foreign property was acquired before the deceased became ordinarily resident in South Africa for the first time, or was acquired by way of donation or inheritance from a non-resident, after the donee became ordinarily resident in South Africa for the first time (provided that the donor or testator was not ordinarily resident in South Africa at the time of the donation or death). The amount of any profits or proceeds of any such property is also deductible.

5. Debts and liabilities due to non-residents:

  • Debts and liabilities due to non-residents are deductible but only to the extent that such debts exceed the value of the deceased’s assets situated outside South Africa which have not been included in the dutiable estate.
  1. Bequests to certain public benefit organisations:
  • Where property is bequeathed to a public benefit organisation or public welfare organisation which is exempt from income tax, or to the State or any local authority within South Africa, the value of such property will be able to be deducted for estate duty purposes.
  1. Property accruing to a surviving spouse [Section 4(q)]:
  • This includes that much of the value of any property included in the estate that has not already been allowed as a deduction and accrues to a surviving spouse.
  • Note that proceeds of a policy payable to the surviving spouse are required to be included in the estate for estate duty purposes (as deemed property), but that this is deductible in terms of Section 4(q).
  • Section 4(q) deductions will not be granted where the property inherited is subject to a bequest price.
  • Section 4(q) deductions will not be granted where the bequest is to a trust established by the deceased for the benefit of the surviving spouse, if the trustee(s) has/have discretion to allocate such property or any income out of it to any person other than the surviving spouse (a discretionary trust). Where the trustee(s) has/have no discretion as regards both the income and capital of the trust, the Section 4(q) deduction may be granted (a vested trust).

Portable R3.5 million deduction between spouses

The Act allows for the R3.5 million deduction from estate duty to roll over from the deceased to a surviving spouse so that the surviving spouse can use a R7 million deduction amount on his/her death.

Life assurance for estate duty

Estate duty will also normally be leviable on these assurance proceeds.

Source: Moore Stephens’ Estate Planning Guide.

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)

ME, MY NEIGHBOUR AND THAT TREE

A3_bThe house was just perfect – the right neighbourhood, well-established garden, beautiful trees waving graciously in the summer breeze with just the right amount of shade next to your swimming pool and veranda. And as the trees are those of your neighbour, no problem with pruning or the leaves, said the estate agent. You fell in love and your family loves the new home.

Autumn arrives. The leaves have changed colour and you have actually taken the competition-winning photographs right from your doorstep! When the leaves started falling, the swimming pool pump required repairs twice due to blockage and your Saturday golf has been replaced with hauling loads of leaves to the garden refuse. During the first thunder storm of the new season the wind ripped a branch off and whipped the branch through your electric fence, taking all off the wall.

The acorns made dents into your brand new pride and joy, whilst the ripe fruit falling down on your lawn has started to rot whilst you were at the beach house. You can’t wait for them to leave this weekend to jump over the fence with your chainsaw … Problems with trees from adjacent gardens are as old as townships itself and since man moved into closer proximity to each other.

To merely jump over the fence and prune, or worse, cut down the tree to your satisfaction will not only constitute trespassing but also malicious damage to property. Many disgruntled neighbour has approached the courts demanding relief. The courts have carefully considered the basis on which you can approach the court, now generally considered as “nuisance”.

You will have to prove to the court that the inconvenience caused to you by your neighbour’s tree is more than you just being fanciful, elegant or having dainty modes and habits of living. The inconvenience caused must materially interfere with your ordinary physical comfort and your human existence.

The standard that the court will consider regarding this infringing of your health, well-being or comfort in occupation of your property, will be that of a normal person of sound and liberal tastes and habits. The test of reasonableness shall be applied taking into account general norms acceptable to a particular society. Actual damage to your property is not a requirement.

The court will, however, also consider the nuisance, even if the tree(s) is actually causing damage, balancing this with your responsibility to tolerate the natural consequence of the ordinary use of the land. In other words, the court will consider the dispute and the decision will involve balancing the competing interests of you and your neighbour.

The judgement of Judge De Vos in Vogel vs Crewe and another 2003 (4) SA 50 (T) raised a further very important aspect – the environment.

In a world where trees and nature are considered all the more important for our well-being and that of the earth, all the more careful consideration should be taken before a demand for the cutting down of a tree is granted.

Judge De Vos noted that trees form an essential part of our human environment, not only giving us aesthetic pleasure but also being functional in providing shade, food and oxygen. And, like many other living things, trees require, in return for the pleasure provided, a certain amount of effort and tolerance.

With our increasing awareness of the importance of protecting our environment, we need to become more tolerant of the inevitable problems caused by the shrinking size of properties and the greater proximity of neighbours, and consequently, the neighbours’ trees.

Before you sell your property and move to another neighbourhood altogether, consider a friendly discussion with your neighbour and his pruning company of choice, from YOUR side of the fence.

Explain to your neighbour which branches of which trees are problematic or show him the cause for your concern. And be willing to reach an agreement somewhere in the middle, taking the type of tree, its form of growth and the balance of the tree into consideration. It will not suffice to demand the removal of a large branch unbalancing the tree which will then fall over during the next storm taking down your wall!

If all your efforts, including friendly letters and e-mailed correspondence fall on deaf ears, you are allowed to prune all branches as from the point that it protrude over the wall into your property. You are not allowed to lean over the wall to cut those branches at the neighbour’s side of the wall. You will also be responsible for removing the branches from your property after you have pruned the tree in this manner.

So take your cup of tea, and have a good, impartial look at that “offending” tree. See the insects, the birds fluttering around and the odd lizard. Tranquil, is it not? Must that tree go, or can you tolerate its existence, maybe with a little pruning? Cutting it down, you might just open a view into your neighbour’s garden (or house), which is even less pleasing!

Consider the environment. Tolerate that tree. In the summer you will relish the shade.

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)

DISPUTES WITH BODY CORPORATE: HOMEOWNERS’ REMEDIES

A2_bOur office recently dealt with a matter where the trustees of the body corporate of a certain sectional title scheme clamped the wheel of the car of one of its homeowners because he did not park on his allocated parking bay.

Even though the homeowner did not park on his allocated parking bay, he could not understand why his vehicle got clamped for parking outside of his own front porch, when he was in and out of the house during the day. It seemed highly unfair and unreasonable to the homeowner.

It is a truism that every homeowner cannot do as he pleases as this would lead to total disorder in the sectional title scheme, and it is the duty of the trustees of the body corporate to enforce rules on owners and tenants alike. When one buys a property in a sectional title scheme one will more often than not find a provision in the agreement which states that homeowners, inter alia, will abide by the rules of the body corporate.

This begs the question whether or not the homeowner’s hands are tied if the rules were amended by a special decision taken at a general meeting by the trustees of the body corporate.

Remedies available to homeowners and tenants

If there is reason to believe that the trustees of the body corporate of a sectional title scheme have acted ultra vires (outside their powers), homeowners have a choice of two remedies – either arbitration or an interdict.

  1. Arbitration step-by-step

The discontented homeowner could apply for arbitration, the duration of which should not exceed a maximum of 52 days.

In terms of Section 71 of Annexure 8 of the Sectional Title Act 95 of 1986, the purpose of arbitration is not, as some believe, to achieve compliance. The prescribed process requires the discontented homeowner to submit his dispute in writing to the trustees of the body corporate of the sectional title scheme within 14 days of the problem arising, whereafter the trustees will review and attempt to settle the matter. Should the problem still not be resolved, either the homeowner or the trustees of the body corporate can request that the matter be referred for arbitration.

The arbitrator has wide discretion in making a costs award. He may order payment by one party, by more than one jointly, or in specific proportions, depending on the outcome of the arbitration. The arbitrator’s decision may be made an order of the High Court upon application by either party, or a party affected by the arbitration.

  1. Alternative remedy

There is a further remedy available to the homeowner, namely an interdict or any form of urgent or other relief by a court with jurisdiction.

 But this line of action has elicited the following warning:

Furthermore, the interdependence of the owners and occupants of units and the unavoidable requisite of harmonious co-existence render an interdict inadequate and indeed improper in the sectional title context. A successful application for an interdict can permanently ruin the harmony of a scheme (LAWSA aw para 238).

In essence, if the rules of your body corporate allow the trustees to clamp your wheel should you disobey the rules, and you have reason to believe that your Body Corporate is acting outside of its powers and/or the rules are unreasonable, you may follow the steps as set out above.

NOTE TO ATTORNEYS: See Section 71 of Annexure 8 of the Sectional Titles Act 95 of 1986.

REFERENCED WORK:

See the article “Managing the Unmanageable” by Tertius Maree, published in De Rebus, August 1999.

Also see the article “Arbitration in Sectional Title Disputes” by Tertius Maree, published in De Rebus, August 1998.

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)

TRUSTEES OF BODY CORPORATE NOT ALLOWED TO DISCONNECT ELECTRICITY OR WATER SUPPLY TO A SECTION AS A DEBT COLLECTION MEASURE

A1_bThe default of levy payments is a frequent problem for the trustees of body corporates as well as the managing agent. It is the way in which the defaulting owner is treated and the outstanding debt collected, that will make the difference between a functioning, financially stable sectional title scheme or an impending disaster zone.

In these testing economic times, monthly levy payments are sometimes considered by owners of sectional title sections to be an optional expense in making ends meet on a tight budget. Once an owner has got away with defaulting on one payment, habitual default becomes easy, and more so if the trustees and management agent are slow to react to the failure to pay. The problem is worsened by the fact that the monthly levy is carefully calculated prior to the annual general meeting to be the minimum amount possible, in an attempt to accommodate the owners. However, these small monthly levies could easily accrue over a few months to a significant amount, aggravated by interest and reflected as a substantial outstanding debt.

These non-payers place severe financial restraints on the cash flow of a body corporate which is largely dependent on the timeous monthly payments by all its members to fulfil its monthly obligations to, inter alia, municipalities regarding water and common area electricity usage, security, and general upkeep of the property. If the body corporate does not have large financial reserves on which it can rely in the event of default by its members, the impact of the default can be severe and can cause unnecessary hardship for other owners. There are known instances of special levies raised in order to assist the body corporate in its financial hardship.

Many trustees and managing agents, in order to recover outstanding amounts, revert to taking the law into their own hands by cutting off the water and electricity supply to such members’ sections or units. Some have even passed rules which allow for such actions. Justifications for these actions by trustees and management agents are abundant, but none of these are legally sound or will stand in court.

By withholding the water and/or electricity supply to the section, whether or not it is allowed for in the rules, the trustees and management agent not only disregard the owner’s constitutional rights to access to water as well as the provisions of the electricity act, but also specific stipulations of the Sectional Title Act, Act 95 of 1986 as amended (“the Act”) and confirmed in case law. Such trustees and managing agents expose themselves and the trustees in their personal capacity, to an application by the owner and/or the occupier, against the spoliation of such services, or access with a court order for immediate re-connection. The body corporate or management agent may not interfere with water and electricity services rendered to a section or unit. The penalty will be a cost order, if not granted on a punitive scale, red faces, and a lot to answer to at the next annual general meeting.

The Act clearly stipulates in Section 37(2) that trustees must approach by action any court, including the Magistrate’s court, for recovery of any and all contributions levied under the provision of Section 37(1), which include monthly levies, special levies, interest, and legal costs on attorney and client scale.

The trustees and managing agent have no choice herein. Prompt debt collection action taken against any owner immediately on default, will be the best defence. Therefore the trustees must ensure that the appointed management agent either has a proven track record or a detailed collection policy prior to appointment of such agent. We all know that the wheels of justice turn slowly, and that it can take months for the default judgement to be granted and the warrant issued. By delaying the collection process the outstanding levy account increases exponentially, together with the burden on paying owners.

Therefore, the trustees themselves should keep a watchful eye on monthly payments and ensure that defaulting owners are immediately contacted by the management agent and, if they persist in the default, handed over to competent attorneys for collection. The sooner, the better. The old adage “absentee landlords gather no crops” is fitting, and trustees should ensure that the management agents attend to defaulters speedily and effectively in the interest of both their own property investment and that of the other owners in the sectional title scheme.

For further reading, see the judgement by Blieden J with Serobe AJ concurring in Queensgate Body Corporate vs MJV Claesen delivered on 26 November 1998 in the Witwatersrand Local Division, case number A3076/1998, and case law referred to therein.

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)