What happens when somebody who is not a relative passes away, and you are aware that the person has assets, but no family to take care of the estate? When does it become your responsibility to report the estate to the Master? What are your responsibilities regarding the assets of the deceased?
Section 7 of the Administration of Estates Act places a responsibility on the following persons to report the estate of a deceased person to the Master “Whenever any person dies within the Republic leaving any property or any document being or purporting to be a will therein -“
- the surviving spouse of such person, or if there is no surviving spouse, his or her nearest relative or connection residing in the district in which the death has taken place; and
- the person who at or immediately after the death has the control of the premises at which the death occurs.
In terms of Section 7(3) the Master may also require any person who may, in his opinion, be able to do so, to furnish further information about the deceased and his/her affairs.
Until such time as the Master has appointed an Executor, Section 11(1) of the Act provides that “any person who at or immediately after the death of any person has the possession or custody of any property, book or document, which belonged to or was in the possession or custody of such deceased person at the time of his death:” shall:
- report the particulars of such property, book or document to the Master and may open any such document to ascertain whether it is a will;
- retain the possession or custody of such property, book or document until an interim curator or an executor of the estate has been appointed or the Master has directed any person to liquidate and distribute the estate; and
- surrender any such property, book or document in his possession or custody to them on written demand by the interim curator or executor.
Please note that section 11(1)(b) specifically allows for the disposal of any such property for the purpose of providing a suitable funeral for the deceased, or preservation of any such property. The bank where the deceased had an account could pay for a funeral, and, should assets need to be stored until the estate can be wound up, the bank could pay for such storage as well.
For further assistance in reporting an Estate to the Master, please contact our Estate and Trust Department.