Retrieving information of someone who has died need not be a nightmare
Winding up an estate can be a difficult task, especially when you’re grieving a loved one. Here’s how to make the process quicker and easier
When someone has died, the family left behind usually need to retrieve information about the deceased’s assets to help the executor wind up the estate.
Very often, the family does not know where to begin. If they are lucky, the deceased would have left details of shares and investments in a safe place but if not, how does one begin to go about retrieving information?
If your family member had a relationship with a financial adviser, that would be the starting point, and if they had share portfolios or other investments at a bank or other financial institution, you could also approach them.
There are also several share transfer secretaries in SA. These businesses keep computerised share registers of listed companies and manage the share registers on behalf of such companies. They all have call-centre facilities and you can contact them by telephone or e-mail to inquire about the deceased’s potential shareholding.
However, financial institutions will usually only be willing to disclose information to the person who has been appointed executor of the deceased estate. If your family member gave you power of attorney before he or she died, it will no longer be valid after his or her death. This is because SA does not (yet) have what is called an enduring power of attorney.
If your family member held shares in an unlisted public or private company, the only way to find out whether and in which company or companies the deceased held shares would be to scrutinise his or her personal documents and/or computer records.
Another potential challenge is finding information about a deceased family members’ digital assets.
Something like an Instagram account could be valuable, if your family member was an award-winning photographer.
Crypto-currency accounts could also be high value assets. Each online or digital asset could pose its own problems in accessing the account of a deceased person after death.
But things can be made easier for you and your family if your family member appoints a professional executor before he or she dies. In the normal course of the administration of a deceased estate a professional executor will contact financial institutions to determine whether the deceased had any accounts with them.
This can help free you up from the worry and hassle at a time of bereavement.
The easiest and swiftest way to ensure the appointment of a professional executor is to make provision in your will.
What usually happens in practice is that the testator (the person making the will) appoints a spouse, family member or friend as executor but stipulates that that person should appoint a specified agent to assist.
An alternative would be to directly name in your will a professional as the executor of your estate, meet with this person while you are still alive and indeed even negotiate the executor’s fee. Such a professional executor could be the representative of a bank or trust company, or an individual.
If you need to find a good executor, the Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa has a directory of members on its website (www.fisa.net.za) through which you could contact someone in your area.
It also has a helpful article on the role of the executor.
• Van Vuren is the CEO of the Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa (Fisa)