Tag Archives: Deceased estate

MANAGING DISPUTES OVER A DECEASED RELATIVE’S ESTATE

If someone leaves a sizeable estate behind, it may cause conflict among the possible heirs. The help of an attorney, when settling an estate after a death, can avoid unnecessary troubles.

The Administration of Estates Act, 1965, determines what must happen with an estate after a person’s death. There are certain steps that should be taken to ensure the process is legal. However, if the estate is worth a lot of money or the deceased has children, then it is a good idea to seek the assistance of an attorney, as family disputes and debts of the deceased can be confusing. In order to this an executor will be appointed to act on behalf of the estate.

Finding the will of a deceased relative

If the deceased person left a will the first thing to do is find it. If they did not tell you beforehand where their will was, you can try calling the probate court in their district or the office of the master of the High Court to check if they have a copy of the will. Other places to call would be the deceased’s life insurance company, bank or lawyer. Otherwise, they might have left a copy of it somewhere secure in their home.

Who is the executor?

An executor is the person appointed to handle the process of settling the estate. The executor will either be mentioned in the will of the deceased or appointed by the master of the High Court. The master will ultimately decide who will take the role of executor. If the chosen executor doesn’t know how to handle the estate or is unfamiliar with the legal procedure, he or she can go to a lawyer for help. Once the executor has been chosen, the master will give them “Letters of Executorship”, which will give only them the authority to handle the estate.

What does the executor need to do?

The executor has several responsibilities such as arranging the valuation of the estate’s property and assets. They will also be responsible for contacting and dealing with all the beneficiaries.

Some other responsibilities of the executor include:

  1. Arranging provisional payments for the family’s immediate needs.
  2. Opening a bank account for the estate and depositing the estates money in it.
  3. Paying all the necessary estate duties.

It’s important that any person who wants to act on behalf of the deceased person’s estate have the Letters of Executorship. If not, their actions would be considered illegal. This also applies to the spouse of the deceased person. This eliminates the possibility of several different family members trying to influence the estate’s dealings. The executor will also decide how the assets will be divided between the heirs and if any or all assets need to be sold. If a will is in place the executor will base his/her decisions on it.

Eventually, the executor will prepare a liquidation and distribution account. This would include what will they intend to do with all the assets left after expenses. This account would be delivered to the master, who will check to see if the executor’s actions reflect the will of the deceased and that all legal requirements have been fulfilled.

Important things to keep in mind?

The master of the High Court should be notified of the deceased person’s estate not later than 14 days after the death. According to the Department of Justice a death of anyone who owned property in South Africa must be reported to the master, whether or not they died in the country.

All estates that exceed R50 000 should be reported to the master of the High Court directly because magistrate’s offices have limited jurisdiction. If reported to the magistrate’s office, estates would usually be referred to the master.

References:

  • The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. 2012. “Reporting the estate of the deceased”. Accessed from: http://www.justice.gov.za/services/report-estate.html/ on 11/05/2016.
  • Administration of Estates Act 66 of 1965. Accessed from: http://www.justice.gov.za/ on 11/05/2016.

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)

HOW IS A DECEASED’S ESTATE ADMINISTERED?

a1_bThe administering of a deceased estate is regulated by the Administration of Estates Act No 66 of 1965 (as amended) and divided according to a valid will or the Intestate Succession Act No 81 of 1987 (as amended) or a combination of both acts.

Various other acts and regulations may, however, also be applicable, like those applicable to income tax (with due allowance for VAT and CGT), Estate duty and Donations tax, and support of surviving spouse.

After a death

When someone dies, his/her estate must be reported to the Master of the High Court as soon as possible, and certain report documents, together with the original will, where applicable, should be delivered to the Master.

In the case of estates with a gross value of less than R250 000 the Master may dispense with an official appointment of an Executor to execute the required administering process. In all other cases, an Executor will be appointed by the Master, who will issue an Executor’s letter to the appointed Executor.

The Executor

As soon as the Executor’s letter has been issued the formal administering of the estate, which the Executor has to follow, will commence. One of the Executor’s first tasks would be to announce to the creditors, acquire details regarding estate assets and have it valued if necessary, and recover certain assets. Known and filed liabilities should be investigated and attention must be paid to income tax.

The Executor is now compelled to submit a liquidation and distribution account (statement of assets and liabilities) to the Master of the High Court within six months after being issued with the Executor’s letter, or ask for a formal postponement. This estate account will indicate all assets and liabilities, distribution of heirs and details of assets outside the estate which are directly payable to beneficiaries.

The Master will check the estate account and then issue a questionnaire to the Executor. As soon as the Master has granted approval the Executor may proceed to announce the account as being open for inspection for 21 days at the Master and the nearest Magistrate’s Office.

Should any written challenges be submitted, it should be dealt with according to the regulations in the Administration of Estates Act. Should there be no challenges, or when the Executor has disposed of all challenges, the Executor may proceed to make payments to heirs and carry over any other assets to the beneficiaries.

Administering obstacles

In most cases the administering process should not be complicated, therefore it would be possible to finalise within a fair period of time (approximately six to nine months). There are, however, many obstacles which may slow down this process and even bring the administering process to a virtual standstill. Some of the most well-known and general obstacles are poor service from government and private institutions, invalid and unpractical wills, shortage of cash, quarrels and disputes among family members and beneficiaries, lack of information, disorder in the tax and other affairs of the deceased, lawsuits before and after death, and legal post-mortems in case of an unnatural death, which may sometimes be required before policies can be paid out.

Conclusion

The administering of an estate is a specialised environment which should be left to capable people with knowledge of the Administration of Estates Act and years of experience. Ignorance regarding the run of events as well as errors of judgement may eventually cost you dearly if you don’t make use of the available expertise.

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)