You’re the executor of a deceased estate: What now?

In South Africa deceased estates are managed by an appointed executor, under the authority of the Master of the High Court. If you’ve been named executor of an estate in the will of a family member or close friend, you’ll need to deal with administrative details while you’re mourning your loss.

The paperwork associated with a death can be intimidating, especially when you’re in an emotional state. But it needs to be handled properly, or you could struggle for a long time to finalise the estate. Something as simple as settling a deceased person’s car loan might become a challenge when winding up an estate.

What is a deceased estate?

A deceased estate refers to everything that the deceased owned at the time of their death. It includes their money, physical possessions, property, and even intangible or digital assets. It also includes the amounts that they owed on any debt like home or vehicle loans.

Who can be appointed as an executor?

When someone draws up a will, they’ll normally name an executor – often a friend or family member. They’ll most likely ask you to consent to the executorship before they draft the will. They can also choose to appoint more than one executor. In that case, the joint executors will have to work together to carry out the administration and distribution of assets.

The executor is officially appointed to wrap up the estate when the Master of the High Court receives the death certificate and the will. However, even if you aren’t nominated in a will, you might still be made an executor. If the deceased died without a will (called dying intestate), the next step depends on the value of the estate.

For estates valued at more than R250,000

The Master will appoint an executor on the deceased’s behalf in terms of the Intestate Succession Act 81 of 1987. If you’re a close relative, the duty may fall on you. The family may also nominate an executor in these circumstances. The Master will issue a letter of executorship to the executor.

For estates valued at less than R250,000

The Master will appoint a Master’s representative and issue a letter of authority to them.

What is your role as executor?

Once the Master has appointed you as executor, you’ll be able by law to access the deceased’s financial records and bank accounts and settle their debts. Then you need to distribute the remaining assets.


If you’ve been made executor of a deceased estate, you can consult your financial adviser to guide you


Your role is to remain impartial and ensure that all the deceased’s wishes are carried out (or that their assets are distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act). You’ll ensure that named heirs receive their bequests, and you will be paid an executor’s fee for finalising the estate.

The duties of an executor

Firstly, an executor should create an inventory of all the deceased’s personal effects. You’ll also have to contact their banks and service providers, so you can list and secure all the estate’s assets and liabilities.

‘Executors are required to do a valuation of the assets and liabilities and account for them in a Liquidation and Distribution Account submitted to the Master of the High Court,’ according to SchoemanLaw Inc attorney Cheralco Worship. ‘The Liquidation and Distribution Account is then advertised in the Government Gazette so that all stakeholders may approach the executor and prove their claim against the estate.’

The executor must process the transfer of assets and pay all claims against the estate, including the relevant taxes, transfer duties and fees. Administering an estate can be hard work that takes a long, frustrating time to finalise. If you’ve been made executor of a deceased estate, you can consult your financial adviser to guide you through the necessary processes.

Nedbank offers estate planning products and services that include free drafting of wills and professional execution of your estate. You can also request a call if you’ve been appointed executor of someone else’s estate and need help.