Answer to a question from a reader

How do I claim my inheritance trust funds?

The short answer

Go to the Master's office or magistrate's court with an application on form J251 and certified proof of the account holder's identity.

The long answer

Broadly there are two types of trust funds in South Africa:

An “inter vivos” trust fund is set up during the lifetime of a person through a contract between that person (the founder) and the trustees for the benefit of beneficiaries.

A “testamentary trust” is set up in terms of a person’s will and comes into effect after that person’s death. The testamentary trust is often called a “will trust” as it is the will that specifies that the trust must be set up when the person dies. The person also specifies in their will who the trustees must be. The trustees’ job usually ends after a predetermined period, or at a predetermined date, such as when a minor child turns eighteen or when a beneficiary dies. 

Accordingly, a testamentary trust is created at the winding up of a deceased estate. 

A testamentary trust is generally set up to hold assets on behalf of minor children, as minor children can’t legally inherit anything. When they come of age, or of the age that the testator specifies, the beneficiaries must receive their benefits from the trustees.

A testamentary trust must be registered by the Master of the High Court at the time of winding up the deceased estate. The appointed trustees apply for a letter of authorisation from the master where the deceased estate is registered, confirming them as the “Representative Taxpayer” (e.g. main trustee) of the Trust. No appointed trustee may act as such without the written authority of the Master. It is worth noting that the Master's Office is in chaos, so it may take some time. You should regularly check in and keep track of the names of people you speak to, what they say and what date you spoke to them.

Trustees must keep accurate financial statements to comply with their fiduciary obligations to the beneficiaries. The Master may request the trustees to account for the administration of the trust.

If, for any reason, the will is invalid, the trust will not come into being. The Master of the High Court has the power to declare this type of trust invalid, unlike an inter vivos trust, where the Master does not have such power.

To sum up, Moneyweb says that to set up a testamentary trust, your will must include the names and ID numbers of the trustees you have nominated, the duties and powers of the trustees, the names of the trust beneficiaries, as well as the objectives of the trust. 

“In setting up your testamentary trust, you effectively ensure that, should you die, specific assets will become assets in the trust which must be administered for, and in the best interests of, your beneficiaries.”

The Department of Justice says that to obtain information on a trust, such as the names of trustees, you should apply in writing to the Master of the office where the trust was registered. The master would then request the input of the trustees.

PM Attorneys says that as a beneficiary, you have a legal right to information about the assets and liabilities of the trust and that transparency is key. 

You may want to ask Legal Aid for assistance. It is a means-tested organisation which must assist people who can’t afford a lawyer. These are their contact details:

Tel: 0800 110 110 (Monday to Friday 7AM - 7PM) 
Please Call Me: 079 835 7179

Wishing you the best,

Answered on May 22, 2024, 4:33 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.