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A guide for families wrapping up a deceased estate

8 June 2020
3 minute read

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Amidst the emotional turmoil of a death of a loved one, the family needs to deal with quite a number of administrative tasks. Here are the steps the family and executor need to follow when wrapping up the deceased estate.

Reporting the death

The Births & Deaths Registration Act requires that a person’s death be reported to the Department of Home Affairs, who will issue a death certificate. This certificate will be given to the deceased’s family by the funeral home.

It’s important to make sure that the details on the death certificate are correct, especially the marital status. If there are mistakes on the certificate it needs to be corrected at the Department of Home Affairs before the executor can register the estate with the Master of the High Court.

Some insurers require a certified copy of the death notice to be submitted with claim forms.

What is a deceased estate?

When a person dies and leaves behind assets of any kind, a deceased estate comes into existence. The deceased estate is administered and distributed in terms of the last will and testament of the deceased.

If there is no valid will, the deceased estate will be distributed in terms of intestate succession, which means it is divided amongst the surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings according to an order of preference.

For more on how to draw up a will, and how to create a life file of all your important documents, go to our estate planning guide here.

What does the executor do?

The executor of the estate is the person appointed to handle the process of winding up the estate. The executor is either nominated in the deceased’s will or by the heirs of the deceased. If there is no will, this nomination is submitted to the Master of the High Court. The executor will do the following in order to wind up the estate of the deceased:

  • Open a bank account in the name of the estate
  • Close bank accounts in the name of the deceased
  • Check the deceased’s bank account to work out what monthly payments are being made. Pay up and close all these accounts e.g. credit cards, petrol cards, gym membership, DSTV, clothing accounts.
  • Submit death claims to life insurance companies
  • Finalise tax affairs with the South African Revenue Service
  • Collect information on all assets and liabilities in the name of the deceased
  • Calculate and pay any estate duty, if applicable
  • Pay debts, creditors and administration charges
  • Distribute the remaining assets in the estate in terms of the will
  • Sell and/or transfer property to heirs

What the family needs to do

The deceased’s family needs to:

  • Obtain a death certificate from the funeral home
  • Advise the executor of the death
  • Get all relevant documents and papers of the deceased together for the first interview with the executor.

The nominated executor will set up an appointment with the family to complete the required documentation and report the estate to the Master of the High Court.
The family and executor will need to gather the following documents required by the Master of the High Court:

  • Death notice
  • Death certificate (certified copy)
  • ID-document of the deceased (certified copy)
  • ID-document of the executor (certified copy)
  • ID-documents of all heirs who will inherit (certified copies)
  • Next-of-kin affidavit
  • Originally signed will
  • Inventory
  • Marriage certificate and antenuptial contract (if applicable)
  • Declaration of marriage
  • Pre-deceased spouse’s death certificate (certified copy)
  • Previous divorce orders
  • Declaration that the estate was not previously reported
  • Acceptance of trust as executor, in duplicate
  • Nomination of executor if no will is available

What are the costs to wind up a deceased estate?

Administrative costs include advertisement costs, executor’s fees, Master’s fees and the conveyancing fees to transfer fixed property. The executor’s prescribed fee is 3.5% (excluding VAT) on the value of the gross assets in the estate.

Keep in mind that the deceased estate may also have debts and other liabilities including mortgages, vehicle finance and other personal loans, which need to be paid. All outstanding income tax and capital gains tax must be paid.

Get your financial affairs in order

The administration of a deceased estate can be a lengthy and complicated process that can take anything from five months to several years to finalise, even with a will in place! The time depends on the size and structure of the deceased person’s assets and liabilities.

Having your affairs in order will save your family a great deal of administrative effort and stress and ensure that your loved ones are taken care of and receive all the assets you wanted them to inherit.

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