High Court staffing shortages
delay deceased estates settlement

Tujoromajo Kasuto

Understaffing in the Office of the Masters of the High Court, currently operating with only nine officials, has resulted in delays in the finaliSation of the deceased’s estates.

According to the Ministry of Justice, this is far from the bare minimum essential for handling all deceased estates within the country. Minister Yvonne Dausab, Minister of Justice, was speaking on the Administration of Estates Amendment Bill. According to the National Assembly, each current Legal Officer would have to process 3 066 estates per year on average, each Chief Legal Officer 7 156 estates, and the Deputy Master 21 468 estates per year. Dausab states that this is not tenable in any organisational setting, particularly if the institution lacks all institutional and resource arrangements due to limited funding availability. “Length of time it takes to finalize deceased estates is a concern we share as a Ministry and are busy with an internal process to improve the turnaround times related thereto. It is important to also point out that the delays, whilst we take responsibility for our part, cannot be solely placed on the Master’s Office. This is so because there are a number of factors that contribute
to the delays,” she says.

In this regard, the minister adds that the Master’s office currently has nine officials working directly with deceased estates, including the Deputy Master. “The Estates and Succession Amendment Act, 2005 (Act No. 15 of 2005) make provision that the Administration of Estates Act, 1965 governs the administration of the liquidation and distribution of all deceased estates, whether testate or intestate, thereby increasing the mandate of the Master of the High Court. This Act also repealed the Administration of Estates (Rehoboth Gebiet) Proclamation, 1941 (Proclamation No. 36 of 1941).”

“While I understand the frustrations of everyone for the delay in finalizing estates, these officials have to not only process the estate files physically, they also have to attend to phone calls, emails, estate agents’ enquiries, creditors as well as the heirs,” she says.

Other extraneous factors which lead to delays in the finalisation of the deceased estate, she says include late filing by agents, incomplete applications by beneficiaries, delays occasioned by external role of external players such as Inland Revenue and banking institutions.

Dausab adds that a commitment for all estates to be finalised and for beneficiaries to benefit within 12 months is still a long way off, but the ministry commits to the prospect of ensuring this as the reform process and the conditions for improved service delivery takes shape. “The staffing issue will have to be one of the first issues to be addressed during the reform process which will require extensive consultations in order for it to be successful. The reform will require each and every one of us to play our part, especially members of the National Assembly, to encourage the public to participate in the consultations once they have commenced,” she says.

She adds that to amend or repeal the entire Administration of Estates Act,1965 requires that all aspects in relation to deceased estates and the Guardian’s Fund are put in place before the entire act may be amended or repealed.

By Observer