Winding up an estate can be a complicated matter with various taxes and costs that come into play. Understanding what these costs and taxes are can help you plan for them, ensuring your family and loved ones are left with an inheritance that is not depleted by various expenses that catch them off-guard. 

Part one of this series will dive into the costs to consider when winding up an estate and part two will explore the relevant taxes. 

Before starting our discussion on the costs and taxes it is important to first understand the concept that if someone passes away, all their assets and liabilities will be “moved” into their estate. The best way to think of an estate is to consider it as a trust that will be managed by the executor and overseen by the Master of the High Court. Seeing the estate as a separate trust helps to understand that it is a pool of assets and liabilities that are separate from the deceased and the family. 

Winding up an estate can be a complicated matter with various taxes and costs that come into play. Understanding what these costs and taxes are can help you plan for them, ensuring your family and loved ones are left with an inheritance that is not depleted by various expenses that catch them off-guard.  Part one of this series will dive into the costs to consider when winding up an estate and part two will explore the relevant taxes.  Before starting our discussion on the costs and taxes it is important to first understand the concept that if someone passes away, all their assets and liabilities will be “moved” into their estate. The best way to think of an estate is to consider it as a trust that will be managed by the executor and overseen by the Master of the High Court. Seeing the estate as a separate trust helps to understand that it is a pool of assets and liabilities that are separate from the deceased and the family.   Some important fees and costs associated with winding up an estate are: Executor’s fees An executor is responsible for winding up an estate and can either be a family member or friend of the deceased or a professional that will charge a fee for their service. An executor can lawfully charge a fee of up to 3.5% of the gross value of the estate, plus VAT if they are VAT registered. The executor is also entitled to a 6% collection commission on any income (e.g. rentals, interest and dividends) received by the estate which is collected by the executor on behalf of the estate. If the value of the estate is R250,000 or less an executor will not be appointed and the Master will give guidance on how the estate must be wound up.  Master’s fees  The Master of the High Court is responsible for overseeing the administration of the estate, appointing an executor, protecting the interests of minors and ensuring testamentary trusts are set up effectively. Their fee is also based on the gross value of the estate and it is calculated as follows: If the value of the estate is between R250,000 and R400,000, a flat fee of R600 applies. If the value of the estate is more than R400,000, a further R200 fee is added to the R600 flat fee for each completed R100,000 value of the estate, capped at R7000. (Therefore, the maximum Master’s fee is R7000 which is reached if the value of the estate is R3.6 million, any value above this will not qualify for additional fees payable to the Master.)  Valuation costs  The Master may insist that the assets in the estate are valued by a sworn appraiser. A sworn appraiser must have a good knowledge of property values and may only operate in a specific area. They are entitled to a fee based on a sliding scale and can also claim traveling charges as determined from time to time.  Advertising costs The Administration of Estates Act requires the executor to place advertisements in both the Government Gazette and the local newspaper where the deceased resided, with the following purposes:  To give notice that the Liquidation and Distribution account in respect of the deceased estate is open for inspection. This account can be thought of as a summary of the assets and liabilities in the estate and will give heirs certainty of what they will inherit.  To call on creditors to prove their claims against the estate.  These costs of advertising can vary based on the newspaper and publication used but is usually in the range of R1,000 to R1,500. Funeral and burial costs These costs are borne from the deceased estate and can be anything between R10,000 to R50,000, or even more depending on the deceased’s or family’s special wishes. Funeral cover in the form of a life policy is usually used as a way to create liquidity for these costs. If these costs were already paid by a family member or other loved one that person may be refunded by the estate.  Estate’s bank account By law the estate is also required to have its own bank account, which can on average cost R600 to open and will then have ongoing administrative fees. This account is used for all deposits and payments during the winding up of the estate since the deceased’s bank account would have been frozen. The executor will be the only authorized person to run this account on behalf of the estate. A professional executor that runs many estates may be able to negotiate favourable rates with a particular bank.   Costs for the provision of security to the Master in cases where the executor does not qualify for an exemption The Administration of Estates Act requires executors to provide security to the Master before they are appointed. Some executors are however exempted from this requirement. This security must be in the form of a Bond of Security, issued by a short-term insurance company. The current annual rate for this amounts to 0,684% on the value of the security (which will be aligned with the gross value of the estate), with a minimum annual premium of R300. Setting up a testamentary trust  Such a trust is set up by the executor, usually with the goal of managing minor children’s inheritance. The average cost of setting up the trust is usually about 1.15% of the net asset value of the trust and a further 1.6% annual fee is usually charged for ongoing administration and management of the trust.  Costs associated with property in an estate Most of the normal costs associated with disposing of a property will also apply when transferring a property falling within an estate to an heir. Some of these costs are outlined below: Obtaining a municipal clearance certificate to ensure all rates and taxes are paid up to date. Bond cancellation costs, if there was still a mortgage on the property. It is usually in the range of 1% on the outstanding value of the bond. This cancellation fee does not need to be paid upfront but will be deducted from the property sale price. The attorneys who are appointed by the bank to handle this will also charge a fee of between R3000 and R5000, which includes a Deeds Office fee and the cost will depend on how many bonds have been registered over the property.   Transfer cost associated with fixed property being transferred into the name of the rightful heir. This cost is determined based on a sliding scale. An amount of R29,000 transfer cost is payable on a property worth R1 million.  The conveyancing attorney fees will also be deducted from the estate as part of the process of disposing of the property in the estate. A property worth R1,85 million will cost the estate R30,544 in fees to the conveyancing attorney.   Benjamin Franklin once said, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” By educating yourself about the possible costs your estate will be liable for, you can plan for them, ensuring your loved ones aren’t left scratching their heads about where their inheritance went.

Some important fees and costs associated with winding up an estate are:

  • Executor’s fees

An executor is responsible for winding up an estate and can either be a family member or friend of the deceased or a professional that will charge a fee for their service. An executor can lawfully charge a fee of up to 3.5% of the gross value of the estate, plus VAT if they are VAT registered. The executor is also entitled to a 6% collection commission on any income (e.g. rentals, interest and dividends) received by the estate which is collected by the executor on behalf of the estate. If the value of the estate is R250,000 or less an executor will not be appointed and the Master will give guidance on how the estate must be wound up. 

  • Master’s fees 

The Master of the High Court is responsible for overseeing the administration of the estate, appointing an executor, protecting the interests of minors and ensuring testamentary trusts are set up effectively. Their fee is also based on the gross value of the estate and it is calculated as follows:

  • If the value of the estate is between R250,000 and R400,000, a flat fee of R600 applies.
  • If the value of the estate is more than R400,000, a further R200 fee is added to the R600 flat fee for each completed R100,000 value of the estate, capped at R7000. (Therefore, the maximum Master’s fee is R7000 which is reached if the value of the estate is R3.6 million, any value above this will not qualify for additional fees payable to the Master.) 
  • Valuation costs 

The Master may insist that the assets in the estate are valued by a sworn appraiser. A sworn appraiser must have a good knowledge of property values and may only operate in a specific area. They are entitled to a fee based on a sliding scale and can also claim traveling charges as determined from time to time. 

  • Advertising costs

The Administration of Estates Act requires the executor to place advertisements in both the Government Gazette and the local newspaper where the deceased resided, with the following purposes: 

  • To give notice that the Liquidation and Distribution account in respect of the deceased estate is open for inspection. This account can be thought of as a summary of the assets and liabilities in the estate and will give heirs certainty of what they will inherit. 
  • To call on creditors to prove their claims against the estate. 

These costs of advertising can vary based on the newspaper and publication used but is usually in the range of R1,000 to R1,500.

  • Funeral and burial costs

These costs are borne from the deceased estate and can be anything between R10,000 to R50,000, or even more depending on the deceased’s or family’s special wishes. Funeral cover in the form of a life policy is usually used as a way to create liquidity for these costs. If these costs were already paid by a family member or other loved one that person may be refunded by the estate. 

  • Estate’s bank account

By law the estate is also required to have its own bank account, which can on average cost R600 to open and will then have ongoing administrative fees. This account is used for all deposits and payments during the winding up of the estate since the deceased’s bank account would have been frozen. The executor will be the only authorized person to run this account on behalf of the estate. A professional executor that runs many estates may be able to negotiate favourable rates with a particular bank.  

  • Costs for the provision of security to the Master in cases where the executor does not qualify for an exemption

The Administration of Estates Act requires executors to provide security to the Master before they are appointed. Some executors are however exempted from this requirement. This security must be in the form of a Bond of Security, issued by a short-term insurance company. The current annual rate for this amounts to 0,684% on the value of the security (which will be aligned with the gross value of the estate), with a minimum annual premium of R300.

  • Setting up a testamentary trust 

Such a trust is set up by the executor, usually with the goal of managing minor children’s inheritance. The average cost of setting up the trust is usually about 1.15% of the net asset value of the trust and a further 1.6% annual fee is usually charged for ongoing administration and management of the trust. 

  • Costs associated with property in an estate

Most of the normal costs associated with disposing of a property will also apply when transferring a property falling within an estate to an heir. Some of these costs are outlined below:

  • Obtaining a municipal clearance certificate to ensure all rates and taxes are paid up to date.
  • Bond cancellation costs, if there was still a mortgage on the property. It is usually in the range of 1% on the outstanding value of the bond. This cancellation fee does not need to be paid upfront but will be deducted from the property sale price. The attorneys who are appointed by the bank to handle this will also charge a fee of between R3000 and R5000, which includes a Deeds Office fee and the cost will depend on how many bonds have been registered over the property.  
  • Transfer cost associated with fixed property being transferred into the name of the rightful heir. This cost is determined based on a sliding scale. An amount of R29,000 transfer cost is payable on a property worth R1 million. 
  • The conveyancing attorney fees will also be deducted from the estate as part of the process of disposing of the property in the estate. A property worth R1,85 million will cost the estate R30,544 in fees to the conveyancing attorney. 

Benjamin Franklin once said, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” By educating yourself about the possible costs your estate will be liable for, you can plan for them, ensuring your loved ones aren’t left scratching their heads about where their inheritance went.

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