Deceased Estates in South Africa is one of the top primary resources when tracing your family tree. The Deceased Estate Papers of the person gives, in brief, gives the final summary and status of their life at the time of death. Depending on when the person died will depend on how many of the following files below are included. The more recent estate papers will reveal more. Older Estate papers did not include Wills and death notices and were filed as separate documents and – pre-1900. Search our database here
Did you know that you can search references for deceased estates housed in the Cape Town Archives from 1951 – 1996 as well as references in the Master of the High Court from 1994 onwards here
In these documents you should find:
b) Liquidation and distribution account reflecting the assets and liabilities of the deceased as at the date of death, and how the balance of the assets of the estate was distributed amongst the heirs. The following are also sometimes included:
- Fixed and movable assets in the estate
- Investments and bonds etc.
Not all of the items above apply to all estates. Estates prior to 1975 do not show ID numbers. The older the estate papers the fewer of the above items are included. Notice of this account is published in local newspapers and the Government Gazette for objection. It is only after publication and the consideration of objections to his satisfaction that the Master of the High Court will approve the account and allow distribution to be affected. Depending on the complexity of the estate it could take a number of years to finalise this account.
When searching for estate papers, ensure that the ensuing year of death is also perused as sometimes the documents are not lodged in the year of death but could be years later. This depends on how long it takes to wind up the estate.
c) Death notice
A Death Notice is the official documentation handed to the Master of the High Court whose office has jurisdiction over the estate. It is used for informing the Master whether the deceased had assets, property or possessions to be passed on to heirs or claimants such as creditors, providing names of potential heirs, supplying the Master with details of where the deceased resided at the time of death and informing the Master whether the person reporting on the death is qualified to do so. The Death Notice contains fields for the following information:
Surname of Deceased
- Ordinary place(s) of residence during the 12 months prior to death and the Province(s).
- Has the deceased left a will?
- Marital status at the time of death
- If married, place where married
- Full names of surviving spouse and his/her occupation
- Full names of children of deceased (state whether major or minor or predeceased and in the latter event, whether they left issue and, if that be the case, the full names of such issue)
One must bear in mind that when a person dies, the family is distraught and one of the members of the family will normally be the person filling in the Death Notice. Expect errors in the information given. If a child has died before his/her parents, the child may not always be listed. The same applies if the deceased has been married more than once — the first spouse is sometimes omitted. If a neighbour or friend filled in the form, they would not necessarily know who the deceased’s parents were, but sometimes guess. Sometimes the death notice states a female’s surname as her maiden name (especially in Afrikaans families), even though she is married. People also tended to lie about their ages or sometimes do not know when and where they were born. Please remember that a death notice could either be perfect, semi-perfect, or completely inaccurate and could send you on the wrong trail in tracing your ancestors. Make sure that you have other resources to complement and verify this information. When and where a person died will determine where their estate papers are housed. Estate Papers will either be in the National Archives or with the Master of the High Court. Deceased Estate Papers dating from before the dates below will be found in the Archives. Those dating from after these dates will be found in the following Master’s Office in the towns concerned.
*NB Remember that not every person had a will or deceased estate. To obtain a copy of someone’s Deceased Estate Papers you will either need to find out whether these documents are in the National Archives or at the Master of the High Court Offices. If you need a reference looked up please let me know as references not on the Archives website are published in the Government Gazettes and my rates are very reasonable.
Please contact me if you want to order a death notice in South Africa or a deceased estate in South Africa from any of the Archives in South Africa or Master of the High Court Offices.