Many people around the world have a diverse investment portfolio of assets situated in more than one country. It is therefore important to know how these assets will be dealt on the owners death.
The estate of any person who dies leaving assets in South Africa needs to be wound up and administered by an executor appointed by the Master of the High Court and is normally done in accordance with the persons nominated in the Will. An Executor can be appointed either by means of the issuing of Letters of Executorship issued by the Master in South Africa or, in the case where a letter of appointment has been issued by another country, that Letter of appointment from the foreign country can be signed and sealed by any of the South African Master’s offices authorising the executor to deal with the assets in South Africa.
In terms of the provisions of the Administration of Estates Act 66 of 1965 (the Act), any office of the Master of the High Court to which an application is made to grant letters of executorship or to sign and seal any such letters already granted in another country, has jurisdiction in a foreign estate. To ensure that no duplication is caused, the applicant must sign a declaration to the effect that no letter of appointment has been issued in a foreign jurisdiction.
In the case where the only assets in South Africa consist of movable property, one may follow simpler procedures for the administration of that person’s estate.
There are countries which have been proclaimed (“Proclaimed States”) in terms whereof it is not necessary for letters of executorship to be issued by the Master of the High Court in South Africa. It is provided that, if letters of appointment have already been issued in that Proclaimed State, that appointment letter can simply be signed and sealed by the Master of the High Court in South Africa. These Proclaimed States include Botswana, Canada, Channel Islands, Kenya, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, Swaziland, Tanzania, the UK, Ireland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. All documents issued in such foreign country are required to be authenticated before they may be of official use in South Africa.