Carving up your farm

Thinking of subdividing? Beware! You could run into serious legal problems.

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Many farm owners in South Africa may not be aware that subdividing land is not permitted without the consent of the minister of agriculture in terms of the Subdivision of Agricultural Land Act. Farmers who wish to leave property to more than one heir or beneficiary should apply to the minister in advance, as gaining ministerial consent can take up to two years, according to Ulrik Strandvik, property director at the Cape legal firm of Gunston Attorneys.

Read: Dealing with land claims

There is also no guarantee that consent to subdivide will be granted automatically. “The aim of the legislation preventing subdivision on the whole is recognised as being praiseworthy,” says Strandvik. “The state doesn’t want to see good agricultural land sacrificed to other forms of development or parcelled to the point where each farm created might struggle to survive as a smaller entity.

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“However, it’s also unreasonable to expect two or three land inheritors to forego their right to own and possibly work on the portions that the testator would like them to have.” What then is the solution in such circumstances? One possibility, says Strandvik, is to bequeath the property to a trust or a company run by the beneficiaries.

“However, this has the disadvantage that the heirs might find it difficult to co-operate with one another,” he adds.“The concept of leaving a farm to more than one heir is fraught with difficulties. “If that has to be the arrangement, the testator should consult a legal advisor or a recognised estate planner to assist with the drafting of the will.”

Phone Ulrik Strandvik on 021 702 7763.