With a global pandemic still in full swing, we find ourselves trying to navigate life around the “new normal” and its effect on our families, homes, businesses, and livelihoods. Not immune from the effects of the pandemic are government departments such as the Master’s office and the Deeds office, and this has had a serious financial impact on the families of deceased victims of the pandemic.
The most critical and time-sensitive task in dealing with a deceased estate is without doubt procuring the appointment of an executor of an estate. Without such an appointment, access to funds owned by the deceased is not possible. Families have no way of dealing with estate expenses such as funeral costs, household costs, maintenance for dependants, or meeting general financial obligations. Delays of several months by the Master’s office in processing these appointments is not unusual, and this is exacerbated if there is no Will with no executor properly identified.
Delay in the appointment of an executor has the ripple effect of delaying access to funds in an estate. What is not commonly understood is that financial institutions do not simply act on the strength of an instruction from an executor but apply their own controls and safeguards and verify the information provided by executors by contacting the Master’s office independently. A backlog in all these processes impacts on families and households in a significant manner.
With global financial borders disappearing and offshore investments becoming “the norm” the question as to how many Wills one should have becomes a relevant consideration. Whether or not you opt for an international Will, or for separate Wills for separate jurisdictions, your executors will still be required to source certain documents which are required to be certified by the Master of the High Court specifically for use outside South Africa. Offshore probate fees, expressed in foreign currency, and foreign tax implications are further factors to be considered in the planning of your estate and the finalising of your Will, both of which are often overlooked by financial advisors in recommending offshore investments.
There is no doubt that as the international investment platforms were opened to South Africans, and income tax applied to assets held worldwide, the administration of deceased estates became more complex and the need to properly prepare and safeguard families that much more necessary. The pandemic simply exposed this as the priority it should always have been.
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