Aug 19

The Master’s Office – One Step Forward – Two Steps Back

Appleton was relieved to be informed by the Fiduciary Institute of South Africa (FISA) that a breakthrough had been achieved by virtue of the Master’s Office accepting support from private sector fiduciary specialists in dealing with the backlog in estate case management. In a landmark development, private sector fiduciary specialists would now be permitted to work within the Master’s Office in order to capture new estates and help process them. This would be done on a pro bono basis, with private sector specialists being allocated a batch of estates to process, irrespective of the nature of the estate or identity of the executor.

FISA arranged for interested and committed fiduciary specialists, such as Appleton, to undergo training at the Master’s Office and to become familiar with its Integrated Case Management System (ICMS). The system proved to be logical, well-thought-out and relatively easy to use. So far, so good.

Hereafter, the experience was less positive and demonstrated that serious and urgent attention needs to be applied to the Master’s Office and systems.

The first and most obvious issue is the need to separate deceased estates that do not require the appointment of an Executor (so-called Section 18.3 estates below R250,000 in value) and those estates requiring the appointment of an executor. The vast majority of 18.3 estates can be processed without specialist skill and can be better facilitated by administrators within the Master’s Office. Currently, this separation does not take place within the Master’s Office and by definition, can cause delays to the processing of estates requiring the appointment of an executor.

In purely practical terms, Appleton’s head of estate administration found that of the four computers allocated to private sector fiduciary specialists, only three worked (reportedly one has never worked), one of the three went down during its use, none were connected to printers, nor to scanners. The demand on the ICMS is such that at every drop-down field of entry, the software hangs, leaving the user unable to proceed further with what should be a simple, pro forma, process.

Given that the Master’s Office is dependent on being connected to the Department of Home Affairs (note that the Department of Justice IT system was hacked and offline for two months last year), as the first point of access for the ICMS is entering the deceased’s identity number, the Home Affairs system going off-line (as it did while Appleton was capturing) results in the entire process freezing.

It was also unclear how the different divisions within the Master’s Office ‘speak’ to each other between floors in the building, leaving the impression of the entire system being siloed and crying out for more ‘joined up’ organisation and management.

So, the news is not all bad. The breakthrough in co-operation between private sector fiduciary specialists and the Master’s Office is welcomed and Appleton applauds FISA and the Master’s Office for this. However, the experience has cast a light on the inadequacies and inefficiencies of the current estate administration process within the Master’s Office.

What is now required is a meeting between FISA, its members who volunteered to assist and the Master’s Office to share their learnings, agree on areas of improvement and map a way forward to enhance the entire deceased estate administration process in the interests of our valued clients.