It is heartbreaking when a loved one dies. The idea of having to deal with his/her belongings after his/her death (“deceased estate”) can be scary for his/her family. A deceased estate must be reported to the Master of the High Court (“Master”) or a magistrate’s office to appoint a person that will deal with the administration of the deceased estate. The administration of a deceased estate does not have to be scary and this article will shed some light on the procedures that must be followed.
What is the administration of a deceased estate?
- The administration of a deceased estate is the procedure that an executor/representative must follow after the death of a person and involves the:
- reporting of the deceased estate;
- collecting the property of the deceased estate;
- paying the debts due by the deceased estate; and
- distributing the remaining property to the heirs.
Where must a deceased estate be reported?
- A deceased estate must be reported to the Master in the province where the deceased usually lived and within 14 days after s/he passed away.
- However, a deceased estate may also be reported to a magistrate’s office in the district where the deceased usually lived. This may only be done in the following circumstances, if the:
- deceased died without a Will; and
- value of the deceased estate is less than R125 000; and
- money available in the deceased estate is less than R20 000.
Who must report a deceased estate?
- As a general rule, a deceased estate must be reported by a family member of the deceased, such as his/her surviving spouse or children.
- If there is no family member, any person who controls property that belongs to the deceased estate, or who possesses the deceased’s Will, must report the deceased estate.
Why should a deceased estate be reported?
- No one may administer a deceased estate without being formally appointed as an executor/representative.
- Therefore, a deceased estate must be reported for an executor/representative to be appointed, who will be under the control of the Master.
- The Master will oversee the administration of the deceased estate to ensure that the correct procedures are followed.
- The Master will also ensure that the executor/representative act in the best interest of the deceased estate and may remove an executor/or representative if they fail to do so.
How must a deceased estate be reported?
- A deceased estate must be reported by submitting certain documents (“reporting documents”) to the Master or the magistrate’s office.
- Generally, the following reporting documents must be submitted:
- Death notice: a form that contains the personal details of the deceased and must be completed by the person who reports the deceased estate.
- Death certificate: a document issued by the Department of Home Affairs containing details of the deceased’s death, such as the date and cause of the death.
- Will (if any): any document that looks like a Will must be submitted to the Master. If there is no Will, the deceased estate will be administered in terms of intestate succession.
- Inventory: a form indicating all property and debts that may form part of the deceased estate.
- Nomination by heirs: a form nominating a person as the executor/representative if the deceased left no Will or the Will does not appoint someone. The Master will appoint a person nominated by the heirs (usually the family members) of the deceased.
- Identity documents: of the deceased and executor/representative.
- Marriage certificate: as proof of the deceased’s marriage (if any).
- Declaration of marriage: a form completed by a surviving spouse (if any) that indicates how the deceased was married, for example, in community of property or out of community of property. Where there is no surviving spouse, someone familiar with the personal details of the deceased may complete the form.
- The Master may request that additional reporting documents be submitted, depending on whether the deceased estate’s value is more than R250 000 or not.
- Remember to always keep copies of the reporting documents to avoid any future disputes.
What happens after a deceased estate has been reported?
- An executor/representative will be appointed.
- If an executor is appointed, s/he can continue with the administration of the deceased estate, which includes the following:
- Collect the property that will form part of the deceased estate, such as any money that must be paid out from policies or money owed to the deceased estate and so on.
- Place an advertisement in a local newspaper where the deceased usually lived, as well as the Government Gazette. This advertisement will inform all creditors of the deceased’s death and request them to lodge their claims against the deceased estate (“claims”) within 30 days from the date of the advertisement. For example, a bank’s claim for a home loan.
- Open an interest-bearing bank account in the name of the deceased estate (“estate account”). All other bank accounts or investments of the deceased will be closed and the balances will be transferred to the estate account.
- Determine if the deceased estate has enough property to pay the debts that form part of the deceased estate. If there is not enough money to pay some or all of the debts, the executor must consider selling some of the property.
- Once all claims have been received and property collected, the executor will start preparing the liquidation and distribution account (“account”) that will, amongst other things, contain the following:
- property that forms part of the deceased estate;
- debts that must be paid by the deceased estate; and
- remainder of the property, after the debts have been paid, that must be given to the heirs of the deceased estate (in terms of testate or intestate succession).
- If a representative is appointed, s/he can continue with the administration of the deceased estate without having to follow the same formal procedures as an executor.
What is the difference between an executor and a representative?
- An executor will be appointed if the value of the deceased estate is R250 000 or more. The Master will issue a letter of executorship to confirm the executor’s appointment.
- A representative will be appointed if the value of a deceased estate is less than R250 000. The Master will issue a letter of authorisation to confirm the representative’s appointment.
What happens after the account has been completed by the executor?
- As soon as the account has been completed and approved by the Master, it must lie for inspection (meaning that the public can go and view it) at the Master and a magistrate’s office for at least 21 days. If no complaints were received during this period, the executor will pay the debts and distribute the property as per the account.
- This includes the transfer of a house (if any) to the heirs, after which the administration of the deceased estate is finalised.
- It is important to keep in mind that the administration of a deceased estate can take a few months or even years (depending on the complexity of a deceased estate).
Must an attorney be appointed to assist with the administration of a deceased estate?
- The administration of a deceased estate is generally not an overwhelming task and it is possible to complete this procedure without assistance from an attorney.
- However, the Master may insist that the assistance of an attorney be obtained when:
- the deceased left no Will;
- the deceased had minor children (under the age of 18 years);
- the deceased estate is insolvent (cannot afford to pay all the debts); or
- the Will creates a trust.