How to appoint an estate executor

An executor is the person who steps in when you pass away, to make sure your assets are distributed according to your wishes, and your estate is finalised in line with South African estate law.

How to appoint an estate executor

Naming someone you know – like a trusted friend or a favourite uncle – to finalise your estate may seem like a good idea, but could turn out to be a bad decision. Alternately, many people think that the family lawyer, or a family member who is a lawyer, would be a good choice, but this is often not the case either.

Taking on the executorship role requires a unique set of skills, so think carefully about who you appoint and be sure to name them in your will. Whoever you nominate as executor, the Master of the High Court has the final say and must confirm the appointment, but here are answers to some of the important questions when deciding who to nominate as your estate executor.

What skills does an executor require?

The person you appoint as estate executor in your will should be a multiskilled individual. Ideally, you are looking for a person who has legal, financial, tax and administrative expertise. It’s also good to choose someone with strong interpersonal skills because the executorship role hinges on good communication. There are many blended and extended families in South Africa and the dynamics can be tricky to navigate when there are several heirs and beneficiaries, or someone is left out of the will. There could also be business partners, debtors, creditors and tax authorities to negotiate with, or big financial decisions to make if assets must be sold to inject liquidity (cashflow) into the estate. Throughout the many steps of the estate administration process, an executor must be able to remain thoughtful and compassionate, but also impartial and objective.

What are the duties of an executor?

The executorship role comprises a long list of duties: submission of documents, obtaining the Letters of Executorship from the Master of the High Court, placing death notices in newspapers and the Government Gazette, communicating with debtors and creditors and settling outstanding payments, compiling an inventory of assets and liabilities, protecting and distributing assets, opening a liquidation and distribution account for the deceased estate, dealing with accrual claims depending on the marriage regime if there’s a surviving spouse, deciding on the sale of assets, filing tax returns, paying estate duty, calculating executor costs, and more.

How are executor costs calculated?

Executor fees are regulated by law. Currently, the formula sets it at a maximum of 3.5% (excl. VAT) of the value of the gross assets in the estate plus 6% of income accrued and collected after a person passes away.

How is estate duty paid?

Estate duty is also called inheritance tax. The executor is responsible for calculating estate duty correctly, making sure it is paid, completing an estate duty return and submitting it to the Master of the High Court, along with the liquidation and distribution account. Copies must also be submitted to SARS.

Is it possible to appoint multiple executors?

It is possible to appoint multiple executors, but not advisable. Multiple executors could mean more complexity and challenges. Logistically, it is difficult to coordinate calendars if more than one executor must go to the Master of the High CourtSARS or the banks as they would need to go in person, at the same time. This could delay the estate administration process, causing your estate to take longer to finalise, and making your heirs and beneficiaries wait for their inheritance. So think twice before appointing more than one person as your estate executor.

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