The short answer
If your mother died without making a will, the Intestate Succession Act would apply.
The whole question
How can I find out what is happening with my late mother’s house, where my cousin had been staying with her? During that time I was still a child staying with my grandmother in a rural area. My mother died in 2001 and my cousin promised to look after the house until I was grown up. After my grandmother too passed away, my cousin changed their phone number and I could not get in touch with him.
The long answer
If your mother died without making a will, the Intestate Succession Act would apply. That means that her descendants would be first in line to inherit her property. You would be ahead of your cousin as you are a direct descendant of your mother.
Perhaps you need to find out first if her death was reported. A death must be reported within 14 days to the Master’s Office, and then a deceased estate comes into being, where all bank accounts and property belonging to your mother is frozen until a person is given the letter of authority by the Master (if the property is valued at less than R50,000) or the executor is appointed by the Master (if the property is valued at over R250,000).
The person with the letter of authority or the executor must open a new bank account in the name of the deceased estate and pay any outstanding debts before seeing that the rightful heirs inherit. The letter of authority or being appointed as an executor does not give that person any rights over the property. Their duty is to wind up the deceased estate.
To be given the letter of authority, a person must be nominated by family members. Is it possible that your cousin was nominated by family members to wind up your mother’s estate? As a child who should inherit her mother’s house when she came of age, you should have been registered as a minor heir in the Master’s Guardian Fund. Each Master has its own Guardian Fund.
The Department of Justice says:
So as your mother died in 2001, it has not yet been 30 years, and you should still be able to claim your inheritance. If the house was sold, the money should have been deposited in the Guardian’s Fund for you as the minor heir.
Perhaps you should take any documents that you have about your mother, the property, her death, her ID, death certificate if you have it, as well as your own ID, to the Master’s Office nearest to where she lived in Cato Manor, and explain your situation. You need to find out if your mother’s death was reported, and if so, who was the person with the letter of authority charged with winding up the estate, and what you must do to claim the house, after this long period.
You should tell the Master that your cousin who had been living with your mother has changed his numbers and is no longer in contact with you, and you don’t know what has become of the house which he was looking after for you until you grew up. Has the house been sold? In whose name is the Title Deed?
The nearest Master’s offices to Cato Manor would be in Cato Crest, in the eThekwini Magistraterial District. That would be the Durban Magistrate’s Court.
If you aren’t assisted by the Master in the Durban Court, this is the helpline of the Chief Master of the High Court:
Tel: 012 315 1207
You could also ask one of the following organisations for help:
Legal Aid (which is a means-tested organisation) for free legal advice and assistance:
Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110
Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179
The Black Sash, an organisation that gives free paralegal advice:
Helpline: 072 663 3739 or 063 610 1865
Pro Bono, a legal organisation that will take a case on without charge, if they think it is in the public interest:
Johannesburg: 011 339 6080
Cape Town: 087 806 6070/1/2
Women’s Legal Centre Trust:
Wishing you the best,
Answered on Feb. 20, 2023, 8:46 a.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.