The top five most stressful events in life are often cited as the death of a loved one, divorce, moving, major illness or injury and the loss of work. When one of these happens to us, our emotions overwhelm us and make it tricky to think lucidly. In recent years, particularly since the global pandemic of 2020, we’ve had clients dealing with three, four or all five of them all at once!
Coping with grief is hard, there’s no easy way around it – we have to move through it. Understanding that your grieving process will be unique to you is one of the first ways to start to cope with grief, but seeking out face-to-face support from people who care about you, and supporting yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically are all scaffolds to build your stamina for working through grief.
Another way you can deal with these events is by protecting yourself before they happen. For death and divorce, we often put contracts (wills and nuptial agreements) in place when we are lucid and rational – hopefully long before the stressful events occur. But even in this prudent preparation, there can be overlaps and we can forget what is covered and not covered.
At a fairly baseline level, a marriage contract determines how your property will be divided in the case of death or divorce. However, your will, which deals with the division of assets after death, may determine how your assets are divided if your marriage contract was not drawn up properly or is no longer valid.
The Wills Act No. 7 of 1953 does not contain any provisions which regulate the effect of marriage on a will. It does, however, regulate the effect of divorce or annulment of a marriage on a will.
And, it can get even more tricky if the divorce and death happen within three months.
The Wills Act gives the newly divorced testators a three-month grace period or window to make changes. This means that should the testator die within three months of the date of the divorce, the will is interpreted as if the surviving party has died before the deceased, and the estate will be distributed accordingly. But, if a divorced testator fails to amend their will within three months from the date of divorce, it will be assumed that the testator wishes their ex-spouse to benefit as per the will.
If you have recently worked through a divorce, or know someone who has, it might be a helpful reminder to double-check the wording and provisions of tthe last will and testament. Please feel free to chat to our team at Victus Group and we will help you navigate the jargon-filled journey ahead.
Information sourced from Schindlers Attorneys, GoLegal and Gov.za.