Answer to a question from a reader

Can you make a will that allows beneficiaries to access the accounts even before the estate is wound up?

The short answer

Unfortunately not. It is a legal requirement for your accounts to be frozen upon your death.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

My father passed away recently. He tried to make sure his wife (my mom) would be fine given their financial constraints. However, my mom has no access to the small investments he made until the estate has been wound up by the executor, which can apparently take over a year. 

How do we avoid this in the future so that, should any of us pass on, our families can access the money for daily living expenses while the property is transferred?

The long answer

When a person dies, their estate must be reported to the Master of the High Court in the district where they lived. The Master will appoint an executor to manage the estate, which can take up to three months or longer. In the meantime, the banks are legally required to freeze the deceased person’s accounts immediately after they are notified of the death, to prevent any fraud or theft.

There is no way that a will can be made that gets around this, as it is a legal requirement. 

As you say, it is very hard for your mother to be cut off from funds in the time between the bank freezing your father’s accounts and an executor being appointed.

But in terms of the Administration of Estates Act, she can approach the Master of the High Court to ask for a letter giving the bank permission to release funds from her husband’s frozen accounts to maintain her. 

If she needs help to apply to the Master of the High Court to confirm that the banks can release funds to her, she could apply to Legal Aid, which is a means-tested organisation that must provide legal assistance to people who can prove that they cannot afford a lawyer. She would need to take all the documents she has, including your father’s death certificate, her ID, the bank account numbers and so on.

Here are the contact details for Legal Aid:

Legal Aid Advice Line (toll-free): 0800 110 110

Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179

The executor can also consider giving interim advances to your mother, once he or she sees that there is enough money to pay for any debts.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Aug. 11, 2021, 10:10 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.