For how many years can you “rule from the grave”?

By Isabelle Coetzee

When you pass away, you may have certain conditions set for your loved ones who will inherit your estate. For example, you may stipulate that set funds must be used for education.

In two stranger cases, famous magician, Harry Houdini, requested an annual séance from his widow; and Leona Helmsley, renowned American businesswoman, left millions to her dog.

But for how long can your wishes have an influence on your estate after you’ve passed away? We consult an expert to answer this question.

Tip: Invest your money today to make sure you have enough saved for your golden years.

Your reign depends on your will, the law, and morals 

According to Matlhodi Leteane, head of operations at FNB Fiduciary, the influence of your wishes depends on whether or not you died with a validly executed will, and whether this included instructions for “ruling from the grave”.

“South African Law recognizes the principle of freedom of testation, which means that the contents of a will are left to the discretion of the testator, which is the person making the will. The testator’s wishes in terms of how the estate will be devolved must also be carried out,” says Leteane.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to draft a will?

She points out that the exception to this is when the provisions of the will are against the law, or against morals as upheld by that particular society.

“If a provision clashes with either of these, it will not be upheld, nor would the courts enforce it. The provision would simply be regarded as having fallen away and the beneficiaries would not be forced to carry out such a provision,” says Leteane.

“In the case of Harry Houdini, if the testator made a wish that the surviving spouse perform a séance every year on the anniversary of his death, the provision will be judged against the morals prevailing at the time and it may well be allowed,” she explains.

An example that Leteane has personally come across is where an estate was bequeathed to the deceased’s sister, on condition that she climb Kilimanjaro Mountain every year.

“The will may mention a specific period, and in that case, the request will be honoured for the duration of that period, or for as long as the estate or trust still has money,” says Leteane.

However, she cautions that if you die intestate, which is when you die without a valid will, you will not be permitted to have a say in your estate after your demise.

Take out life cover to make sure your loved ones have a temporary replacement for your salary.

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