The process and timeline for winding up a deceased estate could be overwhelming for the deceased’s family and, in some instances, beneficiaries of the estate do not always understand the administration process associated with a deceased estate. Estates are becoming more complex and it is pertinent to ensure that a Will is in place in order to ensure that an Executor is nominated. The process of winding up a deceased estate will be summarised broadly below.
The first step will be to consult with the deceased’s family in order to obtain all the relevant documentation to register the estate at the Master’s office of the High Court (“Master’s Office”) within 14 days from the date of death, in the jurisdiction where the deceased was domiciled 12 months prior to his/her death. In the event that the deceased is a non-resident of South Africa, and the deceased held assets in the Republic of South Africa, the death can be registered at any Master’s Office. In such case, an Affidavit must be signed by the Executor confirming that the death is registered at one Master’s Office.
Once the estate has been registered, the Master will issue Letters of Executorship if the gross value of the estate is more than R250 000. If not, Letters of Authority will be issued and the estate will be administered according to the provisions of Section 18(3) of the Administration of Deceased Estates Act 66 of 1965.
The Letters of Executorship provides the Executor with the authority to act in respect of all matters pertaining to the winding up of the estate. For example, the Executor may
(i) open an estate late bank account, (ii) notify all third parties of the passing of the deceased, and (iii) determine the assets and liabilities of the deceased as well as various other duties.
The Executor is required to draft a Liquidation and Distribution account (“L&D”). The L&D reflects all the assets of the deceased, whether collected or awarded to the beneficiaries, as well as the liabilities and administration costs of the estate.
Once the L&D has been finalised, the amount of the estate duty (if applicable) can be determined and paid, the income tax return can be submitted, and any exposure to Capital Gains Tax can be paid to the South African Revenue Services.
The L&D is required to be lodged at the Masters’ Office with all supporting documents and, after a period of 15 business days, the Master’s Office will issue a query sheet for any and all queries the Master may have pertaining to the L&D.
Once the Master regards the L&D in order, permission will be granted by the Master to advertise the L&D account in the Government Gazette and the local newspaper in the area where the deceased resided. The account will also lie open for inspection at the Magistrate’s Court for a period of 21 days.
In the event that there are no objections, the Magistrate will issue a certificate of non-objection (“CONO”). The CONO needs to be lodged at the Masters Office in order to grant the Executor with the authority to distribute the assets of the deceased to the beneficiaries of the estate. Once all of the above has occurred, the Master will issue a final letter confirming that the Estate has been finalised.
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.
Jacomi du Plessis
Deceased Estates and Trust Administrator, Johannesburg