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If a family member or loved one passes away and you are appointed as the executor in the Will, would you know what to do?

The executor is the person nominated in a Will to administer the deceased estate, and plays an essential role in the administration process.

The various requirements for the administration of a deceased estate are set out in the provisions of the Administration of Estates Act, 66 of 1965. In terms of the Act, when a person passes away it must be reported to the Master of the High Court within 14 days of that person’s passing. A death notice together with supporting documents including the original Will, death certificate, identity document of the deceased and documentation confirming the nominated executor in terms of the Will, are delivered to the Master’s Office. The Master will then, on acceptance of the original Will and supporting documents, issue the executor with the Letters of Executorship, authorizing the executor to act in this capacity and to liquidate and distribute the estate of the deceased.

The administration of a deceased estate involves complex legal issues such as the following:

  1. Formation of testamentary trusts;
  2. The preparation of documentation required to be submitted to the Master’s Office ;
  3. Giving notice to and liaising with creditors;
  4. Calculating estate duty;
  5. Submission of a Liquidation and Distribution Account (a summary of all assets, liabilities, income and expenditure of the deceased estate) to the Master within 6 months of receiving the Letters of Executorship; and
  6. On approval by the Master, distribution of the estate to the heirs in terms of the Will.

Should the administration process not be done correctly and not comply with the provisions of the Will and the Administration of Estates Act, the executor could be held personally liable.

Once the letters of Executorship is issued, the executor has the option to appoint an agent to act on his or her behalf. An agent is a person nominated to act on behalf of the executor, in the administration process. An attorney is often appointed as an agent as they have the appropriate expertise in respect of the Administration of Estates Act, liaising with the Masters office and the various nuances of the administration process.

An agent is appointed by special power of attorney signed by the executor, appointing the agent to act on the executor’s behalf and the agent steps into the shoes of the executor in respect of the administration process. While this allows the agent to attend to the administration of the estate on behalf of the executor, this does not absolve the executor of his or her responsibility, making it essential to appoint an agent who has the necessary knowledge and skill to ensure that the administration process is attended to correctly. 

Appointing the right agent to assist you in the administration process ensures that:

  1. All requirements prescribed by the Administration of Estates Act, are met.
  2. Proper effect will be given to the provisions of the Will.
  3. The estate will be wound up within the prescribed time.
  4. All debts and liabilities will be paid and the balance of the estate distributed to the heirs.
  5. All of your duties as executor will be fulfilled.

For more information about the role of an agent in the administration of deceased estates, contact Bridget Witts-Hewinson on 021 671 9322 or by email at bridget@curranattorneys.co.za.