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The reality is that when a person passes away and his/her deceased estate is wound up, certain expenses associated with the process will arise above and beyond preexisting debt. Generally, these liabilities are paid by the cash held in the deceased estate. Cash is obtained from closing the deceased’s bank account, collecting on investments portfolios etc. If there is a cash shortfall, it may become necessary to either sell assets or have the heirs pay the difference.

Here is a brief overview of the costs associated with a deceased estate:

Executor’s Fee

An appointed Executor in an estate is entitled to a fee for seeing to the administration of an estate. In cases where the Executor is a lay person, they appoint an agent (usually a legal or accounting professional) to see to the practical administration of the deceased estate. In these instances, the agent will be entitled to a fee. The Executor’s fee is regulated by legislation and the current maximum fee is set at 3.5% of the total value of the assets in the deceased estate. An Executor or agent can further charge for Value – Value-added tax (VAT) to the fee if they are registered VAT vendors.

Estate Duty

A deceased estate may also be liable to pay tax, called estate duty, to the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Estate duty is charged at a rate of 20% on the dutiable amount for the first R30 million of a deceased estate. A rate of 25% is charged on amounts above R30 million. The good news is that there are many rebates and exemptions applicable when calculating estate duty. For instance, each deceased estate receives a rebate of R3,5 million and any inheritance due to a spouse is exempt from estate duty.

Master’s Fee

The Master of the High Court is the regulatory body that facilitates and oversees the deceased estate administration process. The Executor is formally appointed by the Master and must report to the Master’s Office at certain phases of the winding-up process. The Master subsequently raises a fee which is calculated according to a tariff scale, depending on the value of the deceased estate.

Advertising costs

In terms of section 29 of the Administration of Deceased Estates Act 66 of 1965, a deceased estate must be advertised in the Government Gazette as well as a local newspaper in the area where the deceased lived before his/her passing, in order to notify any creditors to lodge their claims against the estate. The Act further mandates in section 35 that everyone with an interest in the deceased estate be provided with the opportunity to view the Liquidation and Distribution Account of the estate and to lodge an objection if they wish. Notice that the Account is lying open for inspection and at what location, must also be advertised in the Government Gazette and a local newspaper.


Where an immovable property is sold or distributed to heirs, costs associated with the transfer of the property may arise. If assets such as furniture or jewellery need to be evaluated, the estate is liable for the costs. These are just some of the other possible expenses that can be incurred. It is not a fixed list and is determined by the contents and complexities of each individual deceased estate. Contact Jeanne Stander at jeanne@curranattorneys.co.za to discuss the best way to manage and prepare for the costs of your or your loved one’s estate.