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When someone dies they normally have what is called a ‘will’. The people who benefit from this ‘will’ are known as the heirs. Upon someone death, the heirs receive an ‘inheritance’. The person who administers the will of the deceased is called an ‘executor’.

What legislation affects inheritances?

South Africa’s inheritance laws apply to every person who owns property in South Africa.

The three main statutes governing inheritances in South Africa are:

  1. The Administration of Estates Act, which regulates the disposal of the deceased’s estates in South Africa;
  2. The Wills Act, which affects all testators with property in South Africa;
  3. The Intestate Succession Act, which governs the devolution of estates for all deceased persons who have property in the Republic and who die without a will.

All property located in South Africa is subject to these laws, and there are no separate laws for foreigners. Immoveable property is not treated any differently to other types of moveable assets for inheritance purposes. Inheritance issues of foreigners and South African citizens are primarily dealt with by the Master of the High Court; however, if a dispute arises, then the case can be heard in any High Court of South Africa.

Foreigners who acquire immovable property in South Africa through purchase or inheritance must register their transfer of ownership by registering a deed of transfer with the Registrar of Deeds in whose area the property is situated. The process of registering a deed of transfer is carried out by a conveyancer, or specialised lawyer, who acts upon a power of attorney granted by the owner of the property.

Tax and inheritance

In South Africa, there is no tax payable by the heirs who get an inheritance. Capital Gains Tax (CGT) is also not payable by the recipient of an inheritance. Estate Duty and CGT, where applicable, are usually payable by the estate. If it is a foreign estate, it will be subject to the taxes of its country of origin.

What about donations or gifts?

Donations and gifts are treated differently to inheritance. For individuals, donations are subject to a Donations Tax of 20%, with an annual exemption of up to R100,000 of the value of all donations made during the tax year.

  • Non-residents are not subject to Donations Tax. However, in cases where the resident donor transfers his property to a non-resident (donee), and the resident donor fails to pay the Donations Tax, the non-resident (donee) and the resident (donor) will be jointly and severally liable for the tax.
  • Donations between spouses are exempt from Donations Tax, as are donations made to certain public benefit organisations.


The South African Revenue Service (SARS)

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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