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Managing the administration of a deceased relative’s estate

The Administration of Estates Act, 1965, determines what must happen with an estate after a person’s death, to ensure that the process is properly managed. This is particularly important if it is a large estate, the assets are varied and there are potential family disputes.

Finding the Will

The first thing to do is to find the Will. If the Will cannot be found among the papers of the deceased, places to call include the deceased’s life insurance company, bank or attorney.

Who is the executor?

An executor is the person appointed to handle the process of settling the estate. The executor will either be nominated in the Will or nominated by the beneficiaries, if there is no nomination in the Will or no Will can be found. The executor is appointed by the Master of the High Court after, inter alia, taking such nominations into consideration. The Master will ultimately decide who will be the executor. If the chosen executor is unfamiliar with the legal procedure, he or she can approach an attorney for help. Once the executor has been determined, the Master will issue a “Letter of Executorship”, which gives the authority to administer the estate.

What must the executor do?

The executor’s responsibilities include:

  • arranging for valuation of the assets of the estate.
  • contacting and dealing with all the beneficiaries.
  • arranging provisional payments for the family’s immediate needs.
  • opening a bank account for the estate and depositing the estates money in it.
  • paying all the necessary estate duties.

The executor needs the Letter of Executorship to carry out these duties.

Eventually, the executor will prepare a liquidation and distribution account, setting out all assets, and debts, and how the assets will be distributed to beneficiaries.  This account must be delivered to the Master, who will check that the executor’s actions reflect the ill of the deceased and that all legal requirements have been fulfilled.

Important things to keep in mind

Whenever any person dies inside or outside the Republic of South Africa leaving any property or a Will, then the death of such a person must be reported to the Master of the High Court by completing a prescribed Death Notice form.


The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development: “Reporting the estate of the deceased”. Accessed from: on 11/05/2016.

Administration of Estates Act 66 of 1965. Accessed from: 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)

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