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A smooth and speedy winding up of your estate will save your loved ones unnecessary heartache

Opinion editorial by Magrieta Mostert, Estate Administrator at Legatus Trust (Media Release: 20150423)

Dealing with and finalizing a deceased estate is a delicate, emotional and time consuming process that one would like wrapped up as quickly as possible. Sadly, it can turn into a time-consuming endeavour taking years to conclude.
To tackle that pile of documents next to your shoes in your wardrobe is probably not first on your list of fun things to do, but not getting to it means a lot of extra work for your loved ones come the day you leave this earth.
A deceased estate is in fact paper work. It can slow down or even come to a halt because your family members, and therefore the executor of your estate, can’t lay their hands on a necessary piece of paper.
Our journey through life is on paper, starting with a birth certificate and ending with a death certificate. Is it that simple? Not really, your death certificate merely starts your posthumous paper trail: beginning with your will or lack thereof.
It is therefore wise to make use of a reputable company, like Legatus Trust, a long-standing, well respected authority on the drafting of wills and rendering fiduciary services throughout South Africa, to assist in these matters. Legatus Trust keeps their clients’ wills in safe custody at no extra cost.
Once you’ve looked the inevitable in the eye and had your will drafted, tell your next of kin who your executor is and where to find your will. Your loved ones will have to furnish various documents to your executor. A lot of time will be saved if you keep contracts; or a record thereof accessible to your loved ones.
The more complete the information and documentation received; the better your executor can get on with the job at hand. Even a Section 18(3) estate, usually considered quicker to deal with, can be delayed if documents cannot be found. The reason is that the inventory of your assets and liabilities is typed onto the letters of authority.
Your executor deals with many institutions and people on behalf of your deceased estate –heirs, the Master of the High Court, SARS, the deeds office, banks, debtors, creditors and insurance companies to name a few – and delays can arise during any part of the process.
Backlogs at institutions like SARS, banks and courts can be responsible for lost time, as can a poorly drafted will and inadequate preparation.
In many cases, the primary reason for the delay is financial, usually in the form of a cash shortfall. A lot of time is saved in the estate process if you make provision for debts and estate costs. Unfortunately debts don’t die, they become liabilities and are inherited by your beneficiaries.
If your taxes are not up to date or assets not recorded properly, your executor needs time to re-examine everything, income tax and even VAT, should a business from part of your estate. Your executor has to obtain the relevant documentation, complete the returns and submit them to SARS. At SARS, further delays might occur while processing the final assessments against your estate.
If you were involved in litigation before your death, your executor has to evaluate the amount of risk this poses to your estate, and might also need to complete the litigation process. Time and money may be lost in securing a court date, calling witnesses and completing documentation.
Disputes arising between heirs take up precious time and cause unnecessary stress to loved ones. Resolving such disputes often involves writing to the Master of the High Court and other parties concerned; then waiting for response which takes up a considerable amount of time. A well drafted up-to-date will, taking care of any possible disputes, could dispense with such time-consuming activity.
Lastly, in case of an unnatural death, an inquest needs to be held. Witnesses have to be called, and the South African Police Service has to submit their report to the court.
Only after judgement is passed by the court on the circumstances surrounding the death can assets such as accident and death benefits relating to insurance policies be dealt with. 
A great “legacy” you can leave your loved ones is enabling them to get through the winding up of your estate with as few delays and stress as possible.
You want to make sure that:
·       Your will is set up properly and clearly.
·       All the relevant documentation is available to the appointed executor, including your marriage contract, divorce decree & settlement, buying/selling property, taxes, policies, pensions, motor vehicle registration documents, fire arm licenses, financiers of your home loan or vehicle. 
·       Your taxes are up to date.
·       You have insurance policies in place that pay out to the estate should the assets not cover the costs to avoid financial delay arising from lack of funds.
Again, consulting a trustworthy and professional service provider is non-negotiable to ensure a smooth winding up of your estate.

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