What does it mean if the death certificate says “unnatural causes” – specific to reporting the estate
If the death certificate says “unnatural causes”, it means that the person died due to something other than natural causes. This has several implications for reporting the estate of the deceased, especially if the death occurred in South Africa.
One of the most important implications is that the death must be reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS) within 72 hours. The SAPS will then investigate the circumstances and manner of death and collect any evidence from the scene. The SAPS will also arrange for the removal of the body to a state mortuary for a post-mortem examination. A post-mortem examination is “a scientific and objective procedure that involves the systematic examination of the body tissues and organs by a pathologist”. The purpose of the post-mortem examination is to determine the exact cause of death and to provide a medical report that can be used for legal or administrative purposes. The post-mortem examination is required by South African law for all unnatural deaths and cannot be refused by the next of kin. The post-mortem examination may also reveal information that is relevant for reporting and administering the estate of the deceased, such as:
- The identity of the deceased, if unknown or disputed
- The date and time of death, if uncertain or disputed
- The nature and extent of any injuries or diseases that affected the deceased
- The presence of any substances or toxins in the body that may have contributed to or caused the death
- The existence of any genetic or hereditary conditions that may affect the heirs or beneficiaries of the deceased
When a person dies, the cause of death is recorded on a death certificate by a medical practitioner or a traditional leader. The cause of death can be classified as natural or unnatural. Natural causes are those that result from disease or old age, while unnatural causes are those that result from external factors such as accidents, violence, poisoning, or suicide, and could also include any of the following:
- Road traffic collisions involving cars, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, or animals
- Falls from heights, stairs, ladders, roofs, or windows
- Drowning in pools, rivers, dams, or oceans
- Fires or explosions in homes, workplaces, or public places
- Electrocution by faulty wiring, appliances, or lightning
- Poisoning by drugs, alcohol, chemicals, or plants
- Animal attacks by dogs, snakes, bees, or wild animals
- Natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, landslides, or storms
If you do not specify that the death certificate says “unnatural causes” when reporting the estate to the Master of the High Court, you may encounter some problems or delays in finalising the estate. For example:
- You may not have access to the medical report from the post-mortem examination, which may contain vital information for administering the estate
- You may not be able to obtain a letter of executorship or authority from the Master until the SAPS has completed its investigation and issued a clearance certificate
- You may not be able to claim any benefits or compensation from insurance policies, pension funds, or other sources that depend on the cause of death
- You may face legal challenges or disputes from creditors, beneficiaries, or other parties who have an interest in the estate
To avoid these problems or delays, an unnatural death should be reported as soon as possible and all the relevant documents and information must be provided to the Master of the High Court without avail. You should also consult with a professional legal service that specialises in estate administration and planning, such as AED Attorneys.
How can AED Attorneys help you?
Reporting an unnatural death estate can be a complex and stressful process. If you are a new owner of a property that belonged to someone who died due to unnatural causes, you may face some challenges in reporting and administering their estate. You may also encounter some emotional distress and trauma as a result of their death.
AED Attorneys can help you with:
- Reporting an unnatural death estate to the Master of the High Court and the SAPS
- Obtaining a letter of executorship or authority from the Master
- Claiming any benefits or compensation from insurance policies, pension funds, or other sources
- Dealing with any legal challenges or disputes from creditors, beneficiaries, or other parties
- Finalising and distributing the estate in accordance with the law and the wishes of the deceased
An unnatural death can complicate your inheritance or ownership of a property. AED Attorneys understands these implications, tax and financial consequences and other considerations. We have experience of the emotional and psychological impact, and offer the legal support that is essential in the event of an unnatural death estate.
AED Attorneys understands that every situation is unique, and although they strive to ensure that the information contained herein is accurate at the time of publishing, it cannot be guaranteed to be without errors or omissions. As a result, AED Attorneys, its employees, independent contractors, associates or third parties will under no circumstances accept liability or be held liable for any innocent or negligent actions or omissions in this article, which may result in any harm or liability flowing from the use of or the inability to use the information provided.