Administration of a deceased estate

We specialise in the winding up of deceased estates. The tariff laid down by the Administration of Estates Act is 3.5% (plus VAT) of the gross value of the estate and 6% (plus VAT) of the income collected after the date of death. We can always agree on a reduced fee.

When someone dies, his or her assets must be collected, the debts paid and the balance paid to the heirs and legatees. This is the executor’s job and a deceased estate, whether testate (will) or intestate (no will), must have an executor. If the value of a deceased estate does not exceed R 125,000, the Master of the High Court may dispense with the appointment of an executor and give directions as to the manner in which such an estate is liquidated and distributed.

If the estate is intestate, the Master will appoint an executor – usually the surviving spouse. An executor appointed by the Master is called an executor dative, whereas one appointed in a will is an executor testamentary. A valid will, in most cases, nominates an executor. When deciding on an executor testamentary, you can appoint an attorney, a money-wise family friend or relative to undertake this task.

He or she will look after your affairs, pay your debts and then distribute the remaining assets among the heirs named in your will. If you wish, you can appoint one or more persons to act as your executor(s) testamentary. An executor, whether testamentary or dative, must have proof of appointment and this proof is issued by the Master of the High Court in the form of Letters of Executorship.

The personal property and possessions of deceased persons, as well as any monies owed to them (and by them), are known as ‘deceased estates’.

An executor’s first duty is to locate the will if there is one. If the will cannot be found among personal papers, inquiries should be made at the deceased’s lawyers, accountants, bank or insurance company. It may be in safekeeping with one of them.

If it cannot be traced, even though relatives may be positive that one exists, the estate must be administered as if no will had been drawn up and you are said to have died ‘intestate’ and the rules of intestate succession will determine who acquires ownership of the property you have at the date of your death.

The Department of Justice has published a very useful summary if you want to wind up the estate yourself.

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