Massive backlog at Master's offices causing major delays for estates and trusts
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The Master of the High Court, through which you must go for matters concerning deceased estates and trusts, has experienced an unprecedented backlog at its offices countrywide. The Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa (Fisa) reports that there have been some recent positive developments, but the situation is still serious.
The Master of the High Court has been hard hit over the past 18 months by Covid closures and, more recently on September 5, a major cyber attack. These incidents have resulted in an almost total breakdown in services by the 15 Master’s offices around the country.
There has been a recent positive development however in that the Master’s Office ICMS case management system has been restored, albeit on a sporadic basis, and has been accessed by some fiduciary practitioners, according to a release by Fisa.
It appears that Master’s Office officials are able to receive external messages, but it is currently uncertain whether all external messages are being received. Furthermore, the offices can unfortunately not currently respond to queries, but might be in a position to respond telephonically, if the query is not reliant on the system.
Louis van Vuren, chief executive of Fisa, said the public should be aware that processes which often take some time to be completed will be delayed yet further.
For example, the Master’s Office fulfils a crucial role in providing letters of executorship to executors of deceased estates, letters of authority to authorised trustees, and the approval of liquidation and distribution accounts in deceased estates. Banks need the Master’s Office to verify letters of executorship before they can take instructions from executors regarding the bank accounts of deceased customers. This is a crucial step to enable the executor to make interim maintenance payments to a surviving spouse and/or children of the deceased. All these functions have essentially been on hold since September 5.
Van Vuren said: “Trusts have also been badly affected. New or replacement trustees are not authorised which, if the trust deed requires a certain minimum number of trustees, means that the investment portfolios of trusts cannot be rebalanced and can be impacted negatively by market movements. In addition, testamentary trusts cannot be registered, leaving minor children without maintenance while new charitable trusts can also not be registered. The impact on society and the economy is therefore significant.”
He said: “We would like the public to know that the problems are beyond FISA members’ remit, but we are willing to assist the Master’s Offices around the country as much as we can within the existing constraints.”