Deceased Estates

The Administration of Deceased Estates in South Africa

Most people are aware of the importance of making a will and the need to appoint someone who is responsible to act as the executor. Beyond that, however, unless they have already served in the capacity of an executor, they are unlikely to know a great deal about the actual administration of deceased estates and may also be distracted by stress and grief when called upon to undertake this process. In South Africa, where the individual concerned has drawn up a valid will, the process will then be governed by the terms of the Administration of Estates Act, 66 of 1965. Where no such will exists, the terms stated in the Intestate Succession Act, 81 of 1987 will apply instead.

Another contingency which may have a bearing on the process is whether the individual responsible for the bequest passed away within the Republic or whilst visiting or living in another country at the time of his or her death. Finally, depending upon whether the total value of the deceased individual’s estate is less than R200 000 or more than this, the required process will differ, with that applicable to the larger amount becoming proportionately more complex.

In the latter instance, the process begins by applying to the Master of the High Court for a letter of executorship, upon receipt of which, one is then required to advise the South African Revenue Services (SARS) and any other relevant institutions of the death. Thereafter, a minimum of five further steps will be required before an executor is legally permitted to begin distributing the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.

The process is a lengthy one that is fraught with potential obstacles and that can make heavy demands on the time of the executor, as well as incurring a few expenses. While he or she is at liberty to claim such costs from the proceeds of the estate, there is no way to recover the many long hours or to compensate for the frustrations that this, albeit necessary, legal process can so often entail.

To the individual planning to draw up a will, the safe and sensible option is, undoubtedly, to consult a professional. Firstly, this will guarantee that your bequests and conditions are expressed in terms that cannot be misinterpreted and that your intentions will be realised. Since you also need to ensure that the proceeds of your deceased estate are distributed to your beneficiaries as quickly and efficiently as possible, you will be well advised to allocate the role of executor to a professional as well. For the unsuspecting friend or relative asked to act as executor, the best response might be to offer the same advice.

At Secure Legacy, we field a team of legal and financial specialists from our offices in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Skilled in the drawing up of wills and with extensive knowledge and experience of the executorship role, and given the firm’s additional expertise in estate planning and the design and management of trusts, we are the preferred choice of many prominent business owners, professionals and families in the province. Before making or revising your last will and testament, why not approach us for some professional advice regarding deceased estates?