Administration of estates is a process whereby after the death of a person, his or her assets are collected and thereafter distributed to the rightful heirs.
In terms of the law, any person who had assets, his/her death has to be reported to the office of the Master of the High Court of the area where she/he was ordinary resident.
The person appointed by the Master of the High Court to administer the estate of the deceased person is referred to as an executor. The law imposes certain powers and duties on the executor relating to the administration of the estate. The executor does not necessarily have to be an heir to the estate.
In administering an estate, the executor first has to determine whether the deceased died with or without a valid will. In a case where the deceased died with a valid will, this is referred to as testate dispensation. Where the deceased died without a will or his/her will is invalid, we say he/she died intestate.
After the executor has collected the assets of the deceased and paid the debts of estate, he/she has to distribute the estate to the heirs. This is the ultimate purpose of administration of estate. The situation applies whether the deceased died testate or intestate.
It is further very important that the surviving spouse and heirs of the deceased should assist the executor in the process of the administration of the estate. The executor should also keep the surviving spouse and heirs, if the deceased was married, of the processes and progress made in the administration of the estate and the outstanding issues.
After the administration of the estate has been finalised, the executor has to draft a document referred to as a Liquidation and Distribution Account. This document indicates:
- All the assets of the deceased;
- the debts and liabilities of the estate and how they were paid or to be paid;
- and how the estate is to be distributed among the heirs and the surviving spouse, if he/she was married.
- The liquidation and Distribution Account has to be lodged with the Master for approval. If the Master approves the account, the executor can proceed to distribute the estate.