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Article by listed attorney Fawzia Khan 

In this issue we take a brief look at winding up deceased estates or as it’s referred within the legal industry, “administering deceased estates’. An estate is made up of all the assets and liabilities, which belonged to a deceased person at the time of death. The Administration of Estates Act, 66 of 1965 strictly governs the manner in which a deceased person’s estate must be administered. It’s a criminal offence to administer an estate and distribute assets to any person without getting the proper authorization.

The estate of any person who owned assets and dies in South Africa must days be reported within 14 of the death of that person. An Executor is the person who is appointed to administer the estate of a deceased person. If the deceased left an estate under R125 000 then a Master’s Representative will be appointed. If the estate is valued at more than R125 000,00, the Master of the High Court will issue out a “Letter of Executorship” to the Executor. If the estate is small, i.e. under R125 000,00 the Master may dispense with many of the formalities that is required in terms of the Administration of Estates Act, such as drawing up a Liquidation & Distribution Account. The estate is then wound up more quickly than the bigger estates.

If the deceased left a valid will, then his or her estate will be administered in accordance with the wishes of the deceased testator. If no will is found, the estate is then administered as an intestate estate. This means that the law as set out in the Intestate Act Succession Act will stipulate which family member will be entitled to inherit from the deceased’s estate and in what proportion. In doing so it could happen that someone the deceased would not want to share in his or her estate could end up doing just that. Sometimes even if the deceased left a will, it could end up being rejected by the Master if the will does not strictly comply with the formalities as set out in the Wills Act. If this happens, the deceased’s estate will be regarded as if he died without leaving a will and then administered in accordance with the laws of intestacy. Yet another reason to ensure that when you decide to draw a will, it’s done correctly and it is capable of giving full effect to your wishes. An attorney will be able to guide and explain which persons can or cannot benefit as an heir in your estate and who can and cannot act as your executor. It’s therefore prudent to  see an attorney to get your will drawn and have it updated at regular intervals so as to take into account any changes in your life such as divorce, marriage etc.

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