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Trusts and Estate Planning

There are three things in life that are certain – death, taxes and uncertainty! I spend lots of time advising about the first two, but what can we do about the uncertainty?

I’ll frequently find myself in a meeting with a youngish entrepreneur, say 28 years old. We’ll be setting up a trust, planning his or her investment strategy, avoiding taxes on death, protecting assets against creditors and generally trying to avoid making the numerous mistakes that I’ve made in my life. Actually, planning for the next 60 or so years.

But what will the world be like in 60 years time? One thing is for sure – the changes in the next 60 years will be far greater than those in the last 60 years. Change is exponential and that means it accelerates with time, like this –


The lead article in Financial Mail this week was “Robots are coming for your job”. Robots and computers, even emails and smartphone messaging are all doing or eliminating many of the things that kept us busy only twenty years ago.

Add to that the change in South Africa from when I arrived here in 1965, to the dawn of democracy and those halcyon Mandela days, to life under wrecking ball Zuma or Zimbabwe over the same period and where they are now under wrecking ball Mugabe.

And what will be the horror effects of global warming? In October 2017, Cape Town was bone bone dry and Durban had 150mm of rain in one day. Multiple fires were raging in Californian cities over an area as big as Singapore. The videos (thanks to our smart phones) were terrifying.

What happened to the Age of Aquarius? The expected golden age turned into a nightmare of terrorism.

Yes, the future is very, very uncertain. So what can we do about it’s potential adverse effects on all of our careful planning?

There is a maxim in tax planning that says that you can only plan with what you know. Look through the above and take a guess at what the world will be like in 60 years’ time and what have you done? Taken a guess. There is nowhere and no investment that is certain to be safe, so deal with what you can deal with –

1) People will always need somewhere to live (they’ll probably work there too), so I reckon residential property is as good a place as any to be investing.

2) Over invest. In other words, if you reckon you need R12m in today’s terms to be able to retire, then you should be aiming for R24m, because half of it will probably go bad.

3) Diversify. Invest in different assets and in different countries.

4) Don’t be greedy (don’t gamble). Bitcoin is rocketing, but it is pie in the sky and has as uncertain a future as you can imagine. Remember proof Kruger Rands? Do you know that the South Sea Bubble triggered the great world depression following the stock market crash of 1929? If any returns are unrealistic, others will chase those returns and drive up the price until the bubble bursts. Stay away!

5) Respond to change. You can’t see far ahead but you can reasonably see where a current trend is heading in the near future. Satisfy yourself that it is a trend and not a jerk and deal with it.


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