How to Reduce Estate Costs

Death can be an expensive affair and it is easy to underestimate the costs involved, especially as some unconsidered fees can quickly add up.

As well as the funeral expenses, those left behind can be liable to pay mortgage bond cancellation costs, appraisement costs, Master’s Office fees, legal fees, costs of realisation of assets, bank charges, transfer costs of fixed property or shares, maintenance of assets, advertising costs, probate fees, postage and sundry costs, short-term insurance, taxes on investments, and even duplicate motor vehicle registration certificates…

Estate costs generally fall into two categories – administration costs, which arise as a result of the death; and claims against the estate, which are the liabilities of the deceased.

Generally, the biggest administration costs tend to be the executor’s and conveyancing fees.

However, advance planning can help to cover estate costs or at least reduce them significantly. Here are 6 things you can do now to reduce your estate costs for your loved ones in the future. Don’t hesitate to arrange a meeting to discuss your options.

1. Leave a valid will

If you die without a valid will, your estate will be devolved according to The Intestate Succession Act, rather than in accordance with your wishes. Not only is it likely that some of your assets will not be distributed how you wish them to be, but this process can often be more complicated and come with higher legal fees, as well as the potential for costly disputes.

2. Negotiate the executor’s fee

The devolution of an estate requires an executor to sign off the liquidation and distribution of assets, and confirm that all costs are correct. Once you have appointed an executor, you should try to negotiate the executor’s fee when you are drafting your will. You could either then stipulate the fee in the will or request that the executor confirm the agreed fee in writing.

Depending on the composition of your estate, the executor will quote a fee in accordance with how much work is required, and you could potentially negotiate up to a 50% discount.

If your estate is relatively straightforward — for example, you only have one heir, no business or offshore assets, and sufficient cash to cover all costs, you may find that the executor will offer a big discount.

However, if you do not explicitly specify the executor’s remuneration in your will, it may likely be calculated according to a prescribed tariff of 3.5% of the gross value of all your assets. The executor will also be entitled to a 6% fee on all income earned after the date of your death, and if the executor has registered for VAT, then another 15% will be added to the grand total.

3. Avoid costs of security

According to an article published on Moneyweb last year, “costs of security can be avoided completely by exempting the nominated executor from lodging the bond of security in the will.”

4. Prepay your funeral

Planning and paying for your funeral before you die removes a rather big expense that your family or estate must cover after you’ve passed. By choosing the type of funeral you would like in advance, you not only fix the costs, but you also save your loved ones the difficult job of making decisions and having extra admin while they are in mourning. You can simply pre-pay the money into an insurance fund or trust account where it will sit until the time comes to pay for your funeral.

5. Jointly own property

A simple way of potentially reducing estate costs is to hold assets, such as a house, with another person. When you die, any joint asset should automatically pass over to the surviving owner, so will not be considered part of your estate and subject to probate fees. Do note that probate fees can be substantial, so it is important to factor them into your estate planning.

6. Buy life insurance

If there is insufficient cash to settle administration costs and claims against your estate, the executor will need to approach your heirs to see if they are willing to pay the shortfall to avoid the sale of any valuable assets.

If you don’t have enough funds to cover a bond, think carefully about whether you wish to leave the property to someone specific, as they would have to settle the costs and the property may end up being more of a burden than a benefit. If you wish to bequeath an item to a beneficiary, it is best to do so free from any liabilities, as all your debts must be paid before any money or property can be passed on.

To avoid leaving your heirs in a situation where they are forced to settle outstanding debts, it is important to take out life and/or bond insurance to ensure sufficient cash is available to cover any accumulated claims.

Life insurance proceeds are always paid tax-free, and you can name your estate as the beneficiary, in which case the money will be paid to your estate to cover estate costs. Although your estate will pay probate fees on the proceeds, it will ensure your estate has enough cash to pay debts, taxes and other obligations, so as to avoid the sale of assets that beneficiaries may wish to keep.

Alternatively, you could name a beneficiary for your insurance proceeds, and the money will be paid directly to them. If you do this, the money bypasses the estate process and will not form part of your estate, so will not be subject to probate fees and there won’t be any delay in receiving the money.

(Information gathered from and

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