What is deceased estate administration?

Finalising a loved one’s estate after they pass away can be daunting. The legal and financial processes involved in winding-up a deceased estate can feel even more overwhelming at a time when you are dealing with grief and loss.

What is deceased estate administration?

Having a basic understanding of deceased estate administration can make a meaningful difference by being a source of strength and comfort after a loved one passes away.

Some of the most important aspects to know about when it comes to winding-up deceased estates, include executorship, the role of the Master’s office, and estate fees.


Executorship involves carrying out the legal, financial and administrative tasks that make up the deceased estate administration process. After a person passes away, the executor manages and distributes the assets and liabilities in accordance with the will, or as stipulated by South African estate law if a person passes away without a will (intestate succession).

The executor can either be nominated in the deceased's will or they can be appointed by the Master of the High Court. The executor must gather all the relevant information about the deceased's assets and debts, pay outstanding debts and taxes, and then distribute the remaining assets to the heirs or beneficiaries as set out in the will, or as determined by law.

Winding-up deceased estates

Winding-up deceased estates involves several steps, including:

  1. Inventory of assets and liabilities: The executor must compile a comprehensive inventory of assets, such as property, investments, bank accounts, and personal belongings, as well as any outstanding debts, taxes and other financial obligations.
  2. Notifying creditors and beneficiaries: Creditors must be notified of the deceased's passing to allow them to submit claims against the estate. In South Africa, this usually includes placing a small paid advert in a newspaper. Beneficiaries named in the will must also be informed of their entitlements.
  3. Paying debts and taxes: The executor is responsible for settling any outstanding debts, including funeral expenses, taxes, and administration costs, before distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
  4. Asset distribution: Once all debts and taxes have been settled, the executor can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries, according to the person’s last will and testament, or in line with the law of intestate succession if there is no valid will.

Role of the Master’s office

The Master of the High Court oversees the deceased estate administration process and ensures that it is carried out in accordance with the law. The Master's office sets the ball rolling by issuing the Letter of Executorship at the outset of winding-up of a deceased estate.

Estate fees

Estate fees, also known as executor's fees, are charged by the executor for their services in winding-up deceased estates. These fees are regulated by the Master’s office and are typically calculated as a percentage of the total value of the estate (currently a maximum of 3.5% plus VAT of the gross value of the assets in the estate and executors may also charge 6% plus VAT of the income earned after the date of death while the estate is being finalised).

As you can see, deceased estate administration involves a series of legal, financial and administrative processes that must be followed diligently to complete the winding-up of a deceased estate. 

You could navigate this process with greater confidence and peace of mind by arming yourself with a basic understanding of executorship and the steps involved in winding-up deceased estates, the role of the Master's office, and estate fees. 

It is advisable to make use of professional estate administration services for expert assistance, advice and guidance, and to ensure that you abide by estate law.

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