Answer to a question from a reader

What happens if an underage child is left assets from a deceased estate?

The short answer

The assets are kept in an account under the supervision of the Master of the High Court until the child turns 18.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

My ex-boyfriend passed away. His family says that they cannot get a letter of authority without my son's signature. My son is underage so I must accompany him. I suspect that my son has been left assets but the family won't tell me. If I sign the letter of authority, will that give them the right to claim my son's inheritance?

The long answer

A letter of authority does not give the family the right to claim any assets that may have been left to your son. A letter of authority is the written permission given by the court to a person to see to it that the estate of the person who has died is wound up; for example, that the debts are paid and that decisions are taken by the heirs about selling property. 

If your late ex-boyfriend left a will, and your minor son was left assets, you have a right to be present when the will is read, or to see the will. What usually happens if a minor child is left assets, is that they are looked after in an account in the Guardians Fund, which is under the supervision of the Master of the High Court, until the minor child turns 18. The money, which has earned interest in the years before the child comes of age, is then paid out. If the child’s guardian – you in this case – needs to access funds for the child’s education or other needs, you can make an application on the relevant forms at the High Court, and they will pay the money over to the school etc. If he did not leave anything to his son, you would have the right to lodge a claim against the estate for the maintenance of his son.

If he did not leave a will, the Intestate Succession Act applies. This means that family members inherit in the following order:

  1. The spouse/s of the deceased;

  2. The descendants of the deceased;

  3. The parents of the deceased (Only if the deceased died without surviving spouse or descendants);

  4. The siblings of the deceased.  

In this case, if there is a surviving spouse she would inherit and, as your son is a descendant of the deceased, he is an heir. If there are other descendants, they would be heirs as well. All the heirs would inherit a child’s share of the estate – which is the value of the estate divided by the number of children plus the spouse. If there is no surviving spouse and no other descendants, your son would inherit the estate when he came of age.

You could ask advice from Legal Aid, which is a means-tested organisation that must help people who can’t afford a lawyer.  

  • Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110

  • Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179

You could also ask an organisation like the Black Sash for free paralegal advice. These are their details: 


Helpline: 072 663 3739.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Nov. 26, 2021, 1:36 p.m.

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Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.