Category Archives: Family Law

MANAGING DISPUTES OVER A DECEASED RELATIVE’S ESTATE

If someone leaves a sizeable estate behind, it may cause conflict among the possible heirs. The help of an attorney, when settling an estate after a death, can avoid unnecessary troubles.

The Administration of Estates Act, 1965, determines what must happen with an estate after a person’s death. There are certain steps that should be taken to ensure the process is legal. However, if the estate is worth a lot of money or the deceased has children, then it is a good idea to seek the assistance of an attorney, as family disputes and debts of the deceased can be confusing. In order to this an executor will be appointed to act on behalf of the estate.

Finding the will of a deceased relative

If the deceased person left a will the first thing to do is find it. If they did not tell you beforehand where their will was, you can try calling the probate court in their district or the office of the master of the High Court to check if they have a copy of the will. Other places to call would be the deceased’s life insurance company, bank or lawyer. Otherwise, they might have left a copy of it somewhere secure in their home.

Who is the executor?

An executor is the person appointed to handle the process of settling the estate. The executor will either be mentioned in the will of the deceased or appointed by the master of the High Court. The master will ultimately decide who will take the role of executor. If the chosen executor doesn’t know how to handle the estate or is unfamiliar with the legal procedure, he or she can go to a lawyer for help. Once the executor has been chosen, the master will give them “Letters of Executorship”, which will give only them the authority to handle the estate.

What does the executor need to do?

The executor has several responsibilities such as arranging the valuation of the estate’s property and assets. They will also be responsible for contacting and dealing with all the beneficiaries.

Some other responsibilities of the executor include:

  • Arranging provisional payments for the family’s immediate needs.
  • Opening a bank account for the estate and depositing the estates money in it.
  • Paying all the necessary estate duties.

It’s important that any person who wants to act on behalf of the deceased person’s estate have the Letters of Executorship. If not, their actions would be considered illegal. This also applies to the spouse of the deceased person. This eliminates the possibility of several different family members trying to influence the estate’s dealings. The executor will also decide how the assets will be divided between the heirs and if any or all assets need to be sold. If a will is in place the executor will base his/her decisions on it.

Eventually, the executor will prepare a liquidation and distribution account. This would include what will they intend to do with all the assets left after expenses. This account would be delivered to the master, who will check to see if the executor’s actions reflect the will of the deceased and that all legal requirements have been fulfilled.

Important things to keep in mind?

The master of the High Court should be notified of the deceased person’s estate not later than 14 days after the death. According to the Department of Justice a death of anyone who owned property in South Africa must be reported to the master, whether or not they died in the country.

All estates that exceed R50 000 should be reported to the master of the High Court directly because magistrate’s offices have limited jurisdiction. If reported to the magistrate’s office, estates would usually be referred to the master.

References:

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. 2012. “Reporting the estate of the deceased”. Accessed from: http://www.justice.gov.za/services/report-estate.html/ on 11/05/2016.

Administration of Estates Act 66 of 1965. Accessed from: http://www.justice.gov.za/ on 11/05/2016.

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.

RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF UNMARRIED FATHERS

The rights and responsibilities of biological fathers who were not married to the child’s mother at the time of conception or birth can be uncertain. In this article we will discuss when a biological father obtains rights and responsibilities towards their child(ren).

Alissa has a 7-year-old son called Jessie. Alissa had been living with her boyfriend, Mike, for 2 years when Jessie was born. Alissa and Mike were never married and Mike left their common home when Jessie was only 1 year old. Mike makes contact with Jessie and contributes some small amounts towards his maintenance every few months. Alissa would like to know what rights and responsibilities Mike has towards Jessie.

Section 20 of the Children’s Act (“the Act”) confers parental responsibilities and rights on married fathers if they are married to the child’s mother or if they were married at either the time of the child’s conception, birth or any time between conception and birth.

The biological father of a child who does not have parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child in terms of Section 20 of the Act can acquire these responsibilities and rights if one of the following conditions are fulfilled:

  • at the time of the child’s birth he is living with the mother in a permanent life partnership; or
  • if he consents to be identified; or
  • he successfully applies in terms of Section 26 of the Act to be identified as the father; or
  • he pays damages in terms of customary law; or
  • if he contributes or has attempted in good faith to contribute to the child’s upbringing for a reasonable period; or
  • if he has contributed or attempted in good faith to contribute towards expenses in connection with the maintenance of the child for a reasonable period.[1]

It may be difficult to determine whether two persons are in a permanent life partnership or not. This term lacks a precise definition and has been described as “a stable monogamous relationship where a couple who do not wish to (or are not permitted to) marry, live together and share an intimate relationship” that is akin to marriage. The Constitutional Court has given limited recognition to the relationships labelled as “life partnerships” or “permanent life partnerships”, but no specific meaning has been attached to these terms.[2]

It is important to note that this section applies regardless of whether the child was born before or after the commencement of this Act, and that it does not affect the duty of a father to contribute towards the maintenance of the child.[3]

If there is a dispute between the biological father and the biological mother of a child with regard to the fulfillment by that father of the conditions set out above, the matter must be referred for mediation to a family advocate, social worker, social service professional or other suitably qualified person. Any party to the mediation may have the outcome of the mediation reviewed by a court.[4]

From this article we can see that the only clear responsibility of Mike is that of paying maintenance to support Jessie. Due to the fact that the definition of a permanent life partnership is so vague, Mike and Alissa should refer this matter to one of the abovementioned mediators to obtain certainty about Mike’s rights and responsibilities towards Jessie.

References:

  • The Children’s Act 38 of 2005
  • Du Bois F, Willie’s Principle of South African Law (2007), 9th ed.

[1] Section 21 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.
[2] Du Bois F, Willie’s Principle of South African Law (2007), 9th ed., p363.
[3] Section 21(2) of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.
[4] Section 21(3) of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.

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.

THE ABC OF THE ADOPTION OF CHILDREN

Section 229 of the Children’s Act states that the purpose of the adoption procedure is to protect and nurture children in a safe, healthy environment with positive support, and to promote the goals of permanency planning by connecting children to other safe and nurturing family relationships intended to last a lifetime.

When can a child be adopted?

In terms of Section 229 of the Children’s Act, any child can be adopted if:

  1. it is in the best interest of the child;
  2. the child is adoptable; and
  3. the requirements of Chapter 15 of the Act, which deals with adoption of children, are complied with.

A social worker determines whether a child is adoptable by establishing whether the child meets the requirements set out in Section 230(3) of the Children`s Act.

A child is adoptable when:

  1. the child is an orphan who has no guardian who is willing to adopt the child;
  2. the location or whereabouts of the natural parent or guardian of the child cannot be determined;
  3. the child is left behind (abandoned);
  4. the child’s natural parent or guardian abused or deliberately neglected the child, or allowed the child to be abused or willfully neglected;
  5. the child needs an alternative permanent displacement.

Who may adopt a child?

Section 231 of the Children’s Act states that a child may be adopted by:

  1. a husband and wife jointly;
  2. partners in a permanent domestic life partnership (cohabitation relationship), jointly;
  3. persons who share a common residence and form a permanent family unit, together;
  4. a widow, widower, divorced or unmarried person;
  5. a married person whose spouse is the parent of the child or a person whose permanent cohabiting partner is the parent of the child;
  6. the biological father of an illegitimate child;
  7. a foster parent of the child.

These individuals must meet the following requirements as set out in Section 231(2) in terms of which the adoptive parent must be:

  1. fit and proper to be entrusted with full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child;
  2. willing and able to undertake, exercise and maintain the parental responsibilities and rights of the child;
  3. over the age of 18 years;
  4. properly assessed by an adoption social worker for compliance with paragraphs 1 and 2.

It is important to note that a person shall not be disqualified to adopt a child because of his/her financial ability.

What is the effect of an adoption order?

ON PERSONS FORMERLY INVOLVED IN THE CHILD’S LIFE:

Unless there is a pre-adoption agreement that is accepted and confirmed by the Court, an adoption will terminate or make the following void:

  1. Parental responsibilities and rights of any person, including a parent, step-parent or cohabitation partner, that he/she had before the adoption.
  2. All claims of contact with the child by any family member or person mentioned above;
  3. All rights and responsibilities that the child had with respect to the abovementioned persons and any previous placement order regarding the child [Section 242(1) of the Children’s Act].

ON ADOPTIVE PARENTS:

The adoption order transfers full parental responsibilities and rights on behalf of the child to the adoptive parents.

  1. The child assumes the surname of the adoptive parents unless otherwise stated in the Court order.
  2. The adoptive parents are not permitted to allow any marriage or sexual intercourse between the child and any other person who would also have been prohibited from doing so before the adoption.
  3. Finally, the adoption order determines that any property rights the child may have shall not be affected by the adoption [Section 242 (1) of the Children’s Act].

An adopted child must be regarded as the “child” of the adoptive parents and the adoptive parents as the “parents” of the adopted child.

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.