Estate planning and deceased estates demystified

As a small personalised legal practice, it doesn’t surprise us when our clients say to us from time to time “Oh, I didn’t know you did property transfers” or “so you also handle commercial matters?”, and so it goes on through the gamut of legal services, clients often believing that our expertise is limited to the type of work we have in the past performed for them . Big misconception! The fact is that we are involved in (and like to think we’re pretty good at) advising clients and performing services in almost all the legal or legally-related areas our clients are likely to encounter at some time or another in either their personal or business lives. If you are ever in doubt, we are just a phone call away, and in the unlikely event that we are unable to assist you, we will recommend a colleague who we believe can, and also at reasonable rates.

A facet of our practice which has grown exponentially over the last few years is estate planning and deceased estates, and a problem we often encounter is that even if our clients (or potential clients) are aware of the importance of proper estate planning and to some extent familiar with the process involved in the administration of deceased estates, for many the subject is any one or more of taboo, plain depressing or best procrastinated upon for another day.

In truth, proper estate management is just as important as virtually anything else we hold important in our daily lives, and all the more so if one is alive (no pun intended!) to the potential consequences of a failure to perform proper ‘housekeeping’ in this area.



Your Will is nothing more or less than that, an expression of your own personal will (or intention) as far as the distribution of your assets is concerned, and anyone who is over the age of 16 and has assets should have one.

If you do not you are said to be ‘intestate’, in which event your estate will devolve subject to the laws of intestacy, with potentially catastrophic and unintended results. If you do not have a will, or if you are in any doubt as to whether your existing Will faithfully reflects your intentions, let us have a look at it for you and advise you at no cost to you. Be assured that we won’t look for reasons to suggest changes to your will if, in our professional opinion, your will has been carefully and competently drafted.

Importantly, and if you have an existing Will, the chances are that you won’t have been told that the percentage of executors commission (currently 3.5% in terms of the Regulations to the Administration of Estates Act) is negotiable. For example, the saving to an estate where the executor charges 2.5% rather than 3.5% executor’s commission on an estate with a gross value of say R5Million, is R50 000, a considerable saving to the estate, and an added bonus for the beneficiaries. Unlike the banks, and most Trust Companies, we are prepared to negotiate executor’s commission.

If you would like to make a Will or would like us to audit your existing Will for you, give us a call. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes out of your day, and it’s at no cost or obligation to you, apart from which your decision could also lead to significant savings in Estate Duty.



The administrative process which unwinds after death is a mystery to most, yet the way this process plays out is logical, and differs very little between most Western legal systems. In essence, the basic sequence of events involved in the winding up of a deceased estate will go something like this:

  • After death, the Estate is ‘reported’ to the Master of the High Court in the jurisdiction in which the deceased died. This involves the submission of various documents to the Master including the Death Certificate, the Will (if any) and a preliminary inventory of assets and their value which gives the Master some sort of idea about the size of the Estate and to whom to entrust it at his office.
  • The Master will then issue so-called Letters of Executorship, empowering the executor to perform his/her duties.
  • The executor will then place advertisements in the local newspaper advertising for debtors and creditors in the estate and inviting creditors to lodge their claims, and will also set about identifying and ‘collecting’ estate assets.
  • When this has been done, the executor will then prepare a ‘Liquidation and Distribution Account’ which is also advertised and which lies for inspection for nearly a month in order to enable any interested parties to inspect it (since it is not a private or privileged document) and to object to it if they see fit.
  • If there are no objections, the executor may then pay estate creditors and the beneficiaries of the estate, all of whom are required to provide receipts in confirmation that their claims have been settled in full.
  • On submission of these receipts to the Master, the estate is generally regarded as finalised.

We welcome the referral of deceased estates by our clients, and you are more than welcome to give Barry Gregg a call at any time to discuss this further.