Basic Estate Admin / Duties of an Executor
The tasks outlined in the summary below fall under the duties of the executor who may be a family member, a trusted friend or a financial institution. Please note: this is a basic guide for straightforward cases. Possible complications and unique situations are not covered here. If your situation is unusual in any way, taking legal advice is recommended.
- The executor first needs to obtain the will and check on its validity, establish who the beneficiaries are and get a rough idea of the assets and liabilities of the estate. Gather items such as bank accounts, title deeds to properties, insurance policy documents and any other documents you can find that pertain to the financial affairs of the deceased.
If a beneficiary is named in a life assurance policy, the proceeds can be paid directly to beneficiaries without having to go through the estate. This is an ideal vehicle for providing cash to dependents while the estate is being wound up.
- An inventory of assets and property is an official form that can be obtained from the office of the Master of the High Court or from legal stationers. The inventory should indicate whether total assets exceed R250 000. The surviving spouse or closest living blood relative residing in the district where the deceased lived must sign the inventory. If the assets total less than R250 000, the Master can shorten the procedure and allow the estate to be wound up in an informal, cost saving manner. The procedure in this instance is much simpler, in that the executor doesn’t have to advertise for creditors and doesn’t have to draw and submit a Liquidation and Distribution Account.
- An ‘Acceptance of Trust’ form is available at the Master’s office and must be completed and signed in duplicate. The Master’s office will forward a copy to the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
In most cases the will in question would probably have exempted the executor from lodging security. Security is generally not required in cases where the executor is a parent, child or surviving spouse of the deceased. Where the Master requires security to ensure the honesty of the executor it is usually a bond which can be obtained from an insurance company. The amount of security required is at the discretion of the Master, who generally insists on security covering the value of the assets disclosed in the inventory.
- The executor needs to apply to the Master of the High Court to be formally appointed and granted the necessary powers to administer the estate. This can take up to six weeks, depending on which of the nine Masters’ Offices in South Africa is involved. It is best to go in the morning, and take the following documents with you:
- The original will, (it is advisable to get a receipt when you hand it over).
- The death notice
- An inventory
- A certified copy of the death certificate
- An acceptance of trust form, in duplicate.
- A next of kin affidavit
- An affidavit that the estate has not been reported to another Master’s office. (required by some)
- A list of creditors.
Different Masters offices have slightly different requirements, so it is advisable to inquire as to exactly what they require. Aside from the will, all of the above documents are available from the Masters offices.
- The Master of the High Court will grant ‘Letters of Executorship’ to those persons who have been authorised to deal with the estate and who have agreed to accept the job of winding up the estate. Copies of the ‘Letters of Executorship’ will be needed by banks and insurance companies that may hold assets pertaining to the deceased as proof that the assets they hold will be passed on to the properly authorised representative of the deceased’s estate.
Duties of an Executor are continued on – ‘What the Executor must do once appointed’