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Navigating Deceased Estates In South Africa: A Comprehensive Guide


The Passing of a loved one is an emotionally challenging time, and dealing with their estate adds a layer of complexity to an already difficult situation. In South Africa, the process of managing the assets and liabilities of a deceased individual, known as a deceased estate, is governed by a well-defined legal framework. This article serves as a comprehensive guide to understanding the intricacies of deceased estates in South Africa, offering insights into the key steps, roles and responsibilities involved.

The Role of the Executor:

Central to the administration of a deceased estate is the role of the executor. An executor is a person appointed by the deceased’s will or by the Master of the High Court to oversee the winding up of the estate. Their duties include:

  1. Identifying Assets and Liabilities: The executor is tasked with compiling a comprehensive inventory of the deceased’s assets and liabilities. This involved locating bank accounts, investments, property and any outstanding debts.
  2. Notifying Creditors and Beneficiaries: Creditors must be notified of the deceased’s passing, allowing them to submit claims against the estate. Similarly, beneficiaries named in the will or those entitled by law must be informed of their potential inheritance.
  3. Applying for Letters of Executorship / Authority: The executor must apply for a letter of executorship in an estate that exceeds R 250 000.00 in asset value and a letter of authority in an estate less than R 250 000.00 in asset value from the Master of the High Court. These letters grant legal authority to administer the deceased estate.
  4. Valuation and Distribution: The executor is responsible for valuing assets, settling debts, and distributing the remaining estate to beneficiaries as outlined in the will or by law.
  5. Estate Duty and Taxes: The executor must calculate and pay any applicable estate duty and taxes on behalf of the estate.

Legal Procedures and Requirements:

  1. Reporting the Estate: Within 14 days of the executor’s appointment, a section 29 advertisement must be placed in the government gazette and a local newspaper to inform creditors and interested parties about the estate using the J187 form.
    • Master’s Fees: The estate is subject to Master’s fees, which are calculated based on the gross value of the estate’s assets. The fees are calculated as follows: A minimum of R600 for all estates valued from R250 000.00 up to R400 000.00; An additional R200 for every R100 000.00 above R400 0000.00 up to a maximum fee of R7000.00. CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL FEES
  1. Estate Duty: If the estate’s value exceeds a certain threshold, estate duty (similar to inheritance tax) may be applicable. Currently estate duty is levied at the rate of 20% on the net asset value in an estate that exceeds R3.5 million, with an estate where the said net asset value exceeds R30 million, being liable for 25% estate duty on the balance exceeding R30 million. Proper assessment and payment of this duty are the executor’s responsibility.
  2. Liquidation and Distribution Account: The executor prepares a liquidation and distribution account in estates exceeding R 250 000.00 in asset value, which details all assets, liabilities, and distributions. This account is submitted to the Master of the High Court for approval.
  3. Claims and Disputes: Creditors have 30 days from the publication of the section 35 advertisement, using the J193 form, in the newspaper and government gazette to submit their claims. Disputes and claims against the estate must be resolved before the distribution of assets.


Navigating deceased estates in South Africa is a process that demands meticulous attention to detail, adherence to legal requirements, and a deep understanding of financial matters. Executors shoulder a significant responsibility in ensuring that the wishes of the deceased are carried out, debts are settled, and assets are distributed fairly and efficiently. For those facing the complexities of managing a deceased estate, seeking the guidance of experienced legal professions can provide much-needed  support during a challenging time. By adhering to the established legal procedures and fulfilling their fiduciary duties, executors play a vital role in facilitating a smooth transition of assets while honoring the memory of the departed.