Deceased Estate Administration | Wills & Trusts | Sanlam
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Estate Administration

How to process your loved one’s will.

In the unfortunate event of a loved one passing away, the details of their estate needs to be processed properly to give your family peace of mind. The administration process ensures all the terms of his or her last will and testament (if there is one) are carried out correctly. The process itself is highly technical because each individual’s assets, family wishes and circumstances differ. Because of this, the estate administration process usually requires professional expertise.

In case of death

A sudden death in the family can be shocking and traumatising, that’s why we’ve compiled a detailed guideline of the immediate steps you need to take after the death of a loved one:

  • If your loved one has died of natural causes outside of hospital, call your doctor, who will tell you what arrangements need to be made.
  • If they have died of unnatural causes, immediately phone the police.
  • Find the deceased’s will, establish if there are any special instructions for the funeral noted in the will.
  • Establish if the deceased had a funeral policy – usually through his or her financial adviser or bank.
  • Make sure that you notify the nominated executor and his or her financial adviser of the deceased’s passing. The executor is the person or company nominated in the will to wind up your loved ones’ affairs.
  • Phone the undertaker or funeral home, who can arrange all funeral matters and help with a funeral policy claim. Alternatively call your religious leader to arrange this.
  • Notify the deceased's employer and retirement fund.
  • Collect all the deceased's documents, including his or her ID book or card and death certificate, and make an appointment with the executor or financial adviser to report the deceased’s estate.
  • Co-operate fully with the executor and take him or her into your confidence, particularly about your immediate cash and debit order needs. Do not withdraw money from the deceased’s bank account – discuss the issue of urgent cash needs with the executor.
  • Don't take hasty investment decisions before the estate has been finalised. Consult with the executor of the estate on such and other decisions.

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The estate administration process

The administration process for estates of a gross value of R250,000 or more is defined in the Administration of Estates Act, in terms of which executors must follow these guidelines:

The estate administration process The estate administration process

To appoint an executor of an estate (all your assets; property and debts including bank accounts; businesses and personal items), the Master of the High Court must be notified of the death through certain prescribed documents. He or she then examines them and once satisfied with the validity of the will, the Master appoints the executor by issuing a "letter of executorship".

  • The executor will contact all relevant banks and financial services companies.
  • When the executor receives the letter of executorship, he or she is obliged to place a notice in the Government Gazette and in one or more local newspapers, requesting the creditors of the deceased to notify the executor of any claims against the estate within 30 days. During this 30-day period, the executor continues to obtain valuations of fixed and movable assets in the estate, as well as particulars of the deceased's investments.
  • As soon as all this information has been received, the executor determines if the estate has sufficient cash (or money in the bank) to meet its obligations. If not, the beneficiaries are consulted about the way in which they intend meeting the cash shortfall. If they are unable to do so, the executor will sell assets from the estate to cover the cash deficit. Selling of assets often leads to lengthy negotiations with beneficiaries, auctioneers and others, which can delay the administration of the estate.
  • At this stage, the executor also determines the tax position of the deceased by submitting the necessary returns to the South African Revenue Services.
  • Compiling a liquidation and distribution account can take up to 6 months, depending on the size and complexity of the estate. In terms of the Administration of Estates Act, the executor must submit the account within 6 months of the issue of the letter of executorship, unless the Master of the Court has given permission in advance for a time extension.
  • On the basis of the information obtained, the liquidation and distribution account sets out all assets, liabilities and administration costs, explains how assets are divided and determines if estate duty is payable. The account therefore sums up the entire administration process.
  • The account is submitted to the Master of the Court for examination against certain legal rules. The Master may request further information and proof from the executor.
  • The examination process takes 4 to 8 weeks.
  • Once the Master is satisfied with the account, the executor makes it available for inspection by concerned parties for at least 21 days. This is achieved by placing a notice in the Government Gazette and in one or more local newspapers, indicating where the account will be open for inspection for the required period. Anyone who has an interest in the estate and who has an objection to the account may lodge an objection with the Master or, when applicable, a Magistrate, during the 21-day period.
  • The Master refers any objections to the executor for a response. Once the Master has received the executor's response, he will make a decision which is binding on the executor.
  • If the executor or the person who raised the objection doesn't agree with the Master's decision, they can, within 30 days or any further period of time the Court allows, apply to Court for an order to set aside the Master's decision. This could result in the administration process being postponed until conclusion of the court case and the finalisation of the estate taking place only after the objection has been settled.
  • Settlement of an objection against the liquidation and distribution account may take a long period of time depending on the negotiations and if the matter is referred to Court to be settled.
  • If there are no objections, the executor may proceed to finalise the estate.
  • If no objections are made against the liquidation and distribution account, or if an objection has been settled, the executor can finalise the estate. He or she pays the creditors, hands over inheritances to the heirs and arranges for the transfer of fixed property in the names of those entitled to it. The process of transfer can take a few weeks, as there are various legislative requirements to be met.
  • As soon as proof has been provided to the Master that all creditors have been paid, that the heirs have received their inheritances and that the fixed property has been transferred, the estate is regarded as finalised and the executor's duties come to an end.
  • The process of finalisation takes 4 to 8 weeks.

Executor duties

The duties of an executor are to ensure that the final wishes of a deceased person are carried out respectfully and effectively within the framework of legislation. An executor is usually the person considered most trustworthy to ensure the deceased person’s assets are divided up in terms of the last will and testament.

An executor’s duties are to:

  • Collect relevant information of all the deceased’s assets. These assets comprise of fixed properties, furniture, firearms, vehicles, shares, proceeds of insurance policies, outstanding debts owed to the estate, cash assets and all other possible interests the deceased may have had anywhere in the world.
  • Obtain information of all debts against the estate and to settle them after their validity has been investigated.
  • Transfer the assets to the rightful heirs after all debts against the estate have been paid.
  • Protect the interests of the creditors and heirs throughout the administration process.

Download list of executor duties

Frequently asked questions

Please have a look at our frequently asked questions if there is anything that you’re unsure about – otherwise, contact us directly.

Contact your Sanlam financial adviser or Sanlam Trust to obtain the necessary reporting documents.

The successful administration of estates depends on the service from various external institutions, such as the South African Revenue Service, Master's Office, insurance companies, retirement funds and many others. The time spent by these institutions to finalise the affairs of the deceased affects the success with which the executor can conclude the affairs of the estate.

The executor needs specific documents of the deceased to speed up the administration process. If certain documents, such as title deeds of fixed property or share certificates, cannot be traced, the executor must obtain duplicate documents at the expense of the estate, which may create a delay.

  • Funeral costs
  • Master's fees payable to the Master of the High Court
  • Advertising costs
  • Auction fees
  • Estate bank account bank charges
  • Transfer costs of fixed property to conveyancers
  • Bond cancellation costs in respect of bonds registered over fixed property in the estate
  • Clearances payable to the relevant City Councils with regard to rates and taxes
  • Executors fees plus VAT (if applicable)

Download cost details

Contact an adviser

Contact a Sanlam financial adviser or accredited broker to help you with the administration process.

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