Executors and you

What happens after we die? We might not be the authority on perennial, existential questions, but we can give you an idea of the bureaucratic processes that must be followed in South Africa.

When someone dies, their belongings and their liabilities need to be administered – creditors need to be paid, possessions and money need to be given to beneficiaries, paperwork must be compiled and submitted to the Master of the High Court, estate duty must be calculated and paid to SARS (to name a few of these responsibilities). The person (or people) who perform this task are Executors.

Anyone capable of executing a valid will may choose their preferred executor. It should be someone that the testator (person who signs a will) trusts to look after their interests and carry out their wishes. It is the duty of the executor to use the funds of the deceased estate to pay for:

  1. The funeral expenses;
  2. The legal expenses of winding up the estate;
  3. Taxes owed by the deceased; and finally
  4. All other debts owed by the deceased.

An executor is expected to have knowledge of the law and procedure around deceased estates. They will be held personally liable if they are negligent in the exercise of their duties. For this reason, executors without such knowledge and experience should approach a legal specialist (such as De Wet -Van der Watt) to represent and assist them in their tasks. We at De Wet Van der Watt are so confident in our abilities that we usually encourage people to nominate their trusted loved ones (rather than nominate us) as executors. This means that if the executor is for whatever reason not happy with the service that they are receiving from us, they may terminate our mandate and seek help elsewhere.

While the testator may nominate an executor, it is the Master of the High Court (where deceased estates are registered) that will appoint the executor. If they believe that the nominated executor is not fit for the role, an alternative executor may be appointed. The appointment of an alternative executor might not be ideal. A trusted loved one might be more suitably motivated to finalise the estate and to follow courses of action the lead to the greatest utility of the estate.

Before you decide who you wish to nominate as the executor of your estate, schedule a consultation with one of the experts in deceased estates at De Wet – Van der Watt. They are equipped to help you out with any specific concerns that you have around this issue.