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Foreign death certificates – what you need to know

Foreign death certificates – what you need to know
By Lize de la Harpe, Legal Adviser at Glacier by Sanlam


It could easily happen that a South African citizen passes away while overseas. This article looks at how to handle this situation and what needs to be done.

Why do you need a death certificate?

The Births and Deaths Registration Act No. 51 of 1992 (“the Act”) requires that a person’s death be reported to specific officers at the Department of Home Affairs, amongst others.

Obtaining a death certificate is necessary in order to administer a deceased estate.  The person who has been appointed as the executor must take the death certificate to the Master of the High Court and apply for a letter of executorship or a letter of authority, depending on the size of the estate.


How do you obtain a death certificate?

Typically, the Department of Home Affairs will issue a death certificate on receipt of the Notification of Death form and the Death Report.  The death certificate will then be archived by the Department of Home Affairs.

What happens if you die abroad?

Section 19 of the Act states that if any person who is lawfully and permanently resident in the Republic dies outside the Republic, his or her death will be registered in terms of the provisions of this Act on the strength of a death certificate or other similar document issued by the authority concerned in the country in which the death occurred.

Deaths of South African citizens that occur overseas must therefore be reported to the nearest South African mission, embassy or consulate abroad.  The country in which the death occurs will then issue a death certificate; a certified copy of which must be submitted to the South African embassy or mission when reporting the death.


It is not required to insist on a local death certificate before proceeding with a death claim.  We would, however, require the letter of authority from the executor of the estate as issued by the Master’s office before proceeding with a death claim.