Fixing lengthy delays on deceased estates

Losing a loved one is hard. It’s even more difficult to deal with such a loss in the face of long and complicated estate administration processes. It can become emotionally and financially taxing.

Fixing lengthy delays on deceased estates

In South Africa, it is not uncommon for a deceased estate to take two to five years to finalise. This leaves thousands of South Africans in limbo, leading to long waiting times before heirs and beneficiaries can receive their inheritances. Wills and estates specialists Capital Legacy are calling for transformation that would benefit large numbers of people whose lives are being impacted by these delays.  Capital Legacy data shows that over a six-month period, their average time to wind-up an estate was nine months, proving that it is possible to improve the time it takes to finalise a deceased estate.

Deenisha Nadesan, Capital Legacy Executive Director of Estates, says, ‘We are always looking at ways of making the loss of a loved one easier. We believe that legislation and the regulations around deceased estate administration require transformation. The changes we are proposing would benefit our entire industry and make a positive difference to thousands of South Africans’ lives, not only our own clients.’

Apart from benefiting heirs and beneficiaries of deceased estates, the changes that Capital Legacy is suggesting would also greatly aid the work of executors and many other industry professionals in our country.

The existing challenges are multi-faceted but could be addressed with targeted solutions that have been shown to work in other spheres of South African life. Capital Legacy is proposing collaborative efforts with Masters of the High Court and banking partners to improve the processes involved in winding-up deceased estates. Nadesan sets out how this could be made to work for the benefit of all involved.

Masters of the High Court

‘A functioning and secure online portal where all executors could register estates with Masters of the High Court would be a positive start,’ says Nadesan. An online system has been in trial phase since April 2023, but it has run into technical and other difficulties and has not met with broad approval.

It would make more sense to leverage existing systems that have been shown to be fit for purpose and effective. ‘For example, electronic capture of deceased estate details already takes place when we start the estate administration after a person passes away. This is known in the industry as “estate onboarding” and involves the same details required by the Master of the High Court to register a deceased estate when they start the process of winding it up,’ explains Nadesan.

A centralised online solution would save time and solve several practical challenges. It would remove the need for manual data capture and scanning of physical documents at local offices of Masters of the High Court, while also addressing staff shortages, as well as outages and downtime due to load shedding, equipment loss or malfunction. ‘Instead of being bogged down in routine admin, our colleagues at Masters offices would be able to serve the general public more effectively on a daily basis,’ Nadesan adds.

Banking partners

South African banks are truly world class, especially when it comes to digital innovation. In January 2024, South Africa’s financial services ranked second in a survey of 100 banks in 11 countries. Known as the Oliver Wyman Digital Banking Index, it uses 300 metrics in the compilation of its rankings.

‘We appeal to our banking partners to work with us to find effective ways of leveraging the impressive capabilities already in use. Capital Legacy wants to collaborate on improving the processes related to winding-up deceased estates in South Africa,’ says Nadesan.

Banks play a crucial role in estate administration. Executors are dependent upon them, for example, to provide a Certificate of Balance and statements of deceased accounts. Without access to the deceased’s accounts, executors cannot carry out their duties and the estate administration process cannot proceed.

The solution could be something that South Africans already use millions of times a day – online banking. ‘Our banking partners could consider adding a dedicated section to their existing online-banking offerings, which would be dedicated to deceased estates,’ says Nadesan. 

It would be sufficient for executors to have view-only access to a deceased person’s bank account. ‘What we are proposing is a secure portal for access by professional executors to obtain essential documents and information like Certificates of Balance, deceased accounts and FICA. Transactional capabilities are not the chief concern,’ explains Nadesan.

Deenisha Nadesan
Deenisha Nadesan

Keeping the scope contained could simplify the required functionality and reassure the banks that a separation of powers would be upheld. ‘Our banking partners can retain control of the security and integrity of their clients’ accounts. Transactions can only be conducted once the account is closed and the funds are in an executor’s account,’ adds Nadesan.

Apart from online banking, there are also real-world fixes that the banks could consider, which would greatly assist industry professionals in winding-up deceased estates.

‘We would also like to discuss with our banking partners the possibility of providing dedicated kiosks in key branches. This could be a way of giving executors direct access to services related specifically to deceased accounts, relieving bottlenecks in other areas of the banks, and addressing delays for executors and by extension heirs and beneficiaries,’ Nadesan explains.

Masters’ offices, banks and executors are partners in the winding-up of deceased estates. Improving efficiencies would not only benefit them, however, but crucially would also deliver closure and relief for thousands of heirs and beneficiaries who have been waiting very long for their loved ones’ estates to be wound-up.

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