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No parent wants to think about what will happen to their kids should they die prematurely… But if you’re a single or divorced parent, this life circumstance can have more complications than you planned for.

South Africa counts among countries with the highest numbers of children who are being raised by single and divorced parents.

While divorced and single parents often put a lot of effort into minimising the effects of the absence of the other parent on their children’s lives, specific discussion is required to consider and plan for the children’s future lives after the death of a parent.

It’s crucial to talk about this aspect when a divorce settlement is negotiated and to agree in detail about what should happen to a minor child if a parent passes away. Details about guardianship need to be particularly well thought through.

According to the Children’s Act, the surviving parent automatically becomes the minor child’s legal guardian, irrespective of your divorce or custody agreement when you were alive. As the legal guardian, the surviving parent will make all financial and legal decisions for the child even if they don’t live with the child. What if this person lives abroad or in another city and your children have to leave their familiar school environment and their entire routine is disrupted? What if a new spouse (from a second marriage) decides to adopt your minor children? Who would you want to appoint to protect and oversee the inheritance you’ve left for your children?

A child may have more than one guardian. So, if you want to appoint someone as a guardian, make sure that the details are stipulated in your Will and reasons are given for this appointment.

It is preferable to have separate guardians for your children and for your estate (the assets you leave behind). This separation of functions will help avoid possible abuse by a guardian of the money you’ve left for your children.

A testamentary trust ensures that the money you leave for your children is used as you intended – to pay for their upbringing. You can appoint anyone you trust as a trustee, or an independent trustee from a trust company.

These are just some of the intricacies that could turn your children’s lives upside down if you don’t pay timeous attention to them.

For direct answers to your specific personal questions, please contact us directly.

Read more about our estate planning and will services.

Author – Jessica Gooding

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