Questions to consider during the reporting of an estate

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How do I report an estate to the Master?    

A deceased estate comes into existence when a person dies leaving property or a Will or a document which purports to be a Will. The estate must be administered and distributed in terms of the deceased’s Will. If the deceased person did not have a valid Will, the estate Will be administered and distributed in terms of the Intestate Succession Act, 81 of 1987. The procedure which must be followed to administer a deceased estate is prescribed by the Administration of Estates Act, 66 of 1965 (as amended). 

How do you deal with a deceased estate? 

The person dealing with the estate of the person who has died is called an Executor or an Administrator. An Executor is someone who is named in the Will as responsible for dealing with the estate. An Executor must apply for a special legal authority (known as a Letter of Authority to be issued by the Master) before he/shemay deal with the estate. 

When and by whom must estates be reported?  

The estate of a deceased person should be reported to the Master within 14 days from date of death. The death can be reported by any person having control or possession of any property or document being or purporting to be a Will, of the deceased. 

To which Master must the deceased estate be reported? 

Firstly, one must distinguish between those instances where the deceased was resident within the Republic and those where he/she was not resident within the Republic. Where the deceased was resident in the Republic, the estate must be reported to the Master in whose area of jurisdiction the deceased was resident at the time of his/her death. Where the deceased was not resident in the Republic at the time of his/her death, the estate may be reported to any Master, provided it is reported to only one Master. An affidavit to the effect that the letters of Executorship have not already been granted by any other Master in the Republic must accompany the reporting documents. 

How much should an Executor of an estate get paid in South Africa? 

The Executor is entitled to the following fee: on the gross value of assets in an estate: 3,5% plus VAT (if registered for VAT); on income accrued and collected after death of the deceased: 6% plus VAT (if registered for VAT). 

How long does it take to wrap up an estate? 

 As a rough guide, a deceased estate can take anything from six months (which is extremely unlikely) to several years to finalise. The time required depends largely on the size and structure of the deceased person’s assets and liabilities. The time taken to wind up an estate Will be influenced by the service levels the Executor of the estate experiences when dealing with various institutions such as the office of the Master of the High Court, SARS, financial institutions and the deceased’s employer. The Administration of Estates Act also prescribes certain processes which carry compulsory time periods. The main ones are: 

  • The advertisement period for debtors and creditors; and 
  • The inspection period during which the estate account must be available for inspection at the relevant Master’s Office.   

How long must an estate remain open? 

The length of time an Executor has to distribute assets from a Will varies on a case to case basis, but generally falls between one and three years. 

How long does it take to settle a deceased estate in South Africa? 

Sometimes, due to a complex asset structure or tax issues, several draft Liquidation & Distribution accounts will have to be drawn before the estate can be finalised. Some reasons for a delay in reporting an estate is as a result of disagreements between family members of the deceased regarding the Will or distribution of the estate.  It is important to note that forging, hiding or destroying a Will is not only civil wrong (in that a person who does so will not be entitled to inherit), it is also a criminal wrong (in terms of section 102 of the Administration of Estates Act). A person who is guilty of a crime, who steals, wilfully destroys, conceals, falsifies or damages a Will may not inherit in terms of that Will. 

Process to be followed for the reporting of an estate and the winding up thereof (with estimated turn around times): 

  • From death to reporting the death to the Master of the High Court and handing in the Will: 2  21days 
  • Waiting for the Master to issue letters of Executorship to the Executor: 2 – 90days 
  • Placing the advertisement for debtors and creditors: 7 – 14days 
  • Advertisement time period: 30 – 44days 
  • Time to finalise drafting the account and lodging with the Master: 7 – 60days 
  • Waiting for approval from the Master: 14 – 90days 
  • Preparing to advertise the account: 7 – 14days 
  • Advertisement period: 21 – 28days 
  • Distribution of assets: 30 – 180days 
  • Final requirements and final cash pay-out to heirs: 30 – 180days 

Total for an average estate 6–13 months 

What happens once the whole estate has been distributed? 

Once the property has been transferred to the heirs and the last cash has been paid out to the heirs, the Executor can then apply for a filing notice from the Master. Once this has been given, the Executor can then file away the estate file. The Executor then applies for a discharge under Section 56 of the Administration of Estates Act.  

As illustrated above, the process of winding up a deceased estate is a lengthy one. As such, family members should always be prepared to care for themselves in the interim. Furthermore, some expertise is required in order to complete the process so it is important to seek professional assistance. 

You are welcome to contact Tshepang Mabayo of our office should have any queries or require assistance with the reporting of an estate to the Master. 

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)