Since the implementation of the level 5 lockdown on 27 March 2020, businesses and participants in economic activity have all undergone change and adaptation. We have all been confronted with slow to sometimes zero progress at stages. To this end, our government recognised the importance of restoring economic activity where we are phasing back to what we will be calling ‘a new normal’.

Although the easing up of our economy has given us breathing space, it goes without saying that there are many hurdles ahead needing to be overcome as we tackle the new struggles we face in our respective industries. With this in mind, let us zone in on how the Masters Office is operating under alert level 3.

The Office of the Chief Master released a Protocol which exposited the details of the functioning of the Masters Office under alert level 3. There are accordingly a few important aspects, amongst others, to take note of starting with their limited services under level 3:

Reporting and issuing of appointments in all deceased estate matters;
Reporting and issuing of appointments in all insolvency matters;
Lodgement of requisitions by way of e-mail;
Examination of L & D accounts in al deceased estate matters;
Examination of L & D accounts in all insolvency matters lodged;
Reporting and issuing of appointments in all Trust matters lodged;
Reporting and issuing of appointments in all curatorship matters;
Receiving of applications and payments of funds from the Guardian’s Fund;
Examination of accounts in Curatorship matters lodged; and
Dealing with all correspondence received by e-mail.
The services listed above are subject to precautionary measures and standards. The measures which are likely to impact on operations include:

no gatherings of more than 50 people in each Masters Office building;
officials with allocated offices resume full time whilst other supporting staff/officials are working staggered hours or are on rotation;
lodgement of documents will be placed in postal boxes at the main entrances which will be seen to every 12 hours which is predicted to be a duration for which the virus is unable to survive on paper surfaces;
Only one person per matter will be allowed into the office to report, lodge or collect unless exceptional circumstances determine otherwise;
Without an appointment, access is generally denied;
Queries by the public or stakeholders are encouraged to communicate by e-mail and followed up telephonically if necessary, within 14 working days.
To shed light on the practical implications of the above, the Masters Office deal with immense volumes of files which require many hands on deck. The staggered working hours of many support staff has undoubtedly impacted the efficiency of the office. The further rotation of other staff members is also difficult where the required staff member for your particular matter is not reachable until they are back on shift.

Moving onto specific services within the Masters Office, let us touch on deceased estates and trusts focusing on the shift from level 4:

Having regard to deceased estates, originally signed reporting documents can be posted, couriered or hand delivered to the Masters Office. This would include those documents such as renunciations, adiations, redistribution agreements, 42(2) applications and Bonds of security where the Master is required to perform functions such as acceptance or endorsement.

In contrast to the restrictions in level 4, the Magistrates Court will now allow inspection of accounts where the advertising procedure and requirements will additionally return to normal. The various executors of the relevant estates must however take cognisance of known beneficiaries, debtors, creditors and maintenance dependants that might not be able/allowed to travel to the necessary court. In such circumstances, the accounts advertised in terms of section 35 should be forwarded to the above parties.

The Master’s officials will deal with all new amendment applications lodged and any applications already lodged prior to the lockdown. In light of the functioning of courier services during level 3, originally signed documents can again be couriered, posted or hand delivered.
Letters of appointment will be placed in the respective pigeonholes for collection or posted in instances where a party does not have a pigeon hole.

To sum up and in light of the above, delays are expected, temporary closures inevitable and a new normal is guaranteed. The turnaround time for the administration of any deceased estate will be affected by the current pandemic and resultant lockdown stages. However, the offices of Greyvensteins Incorporated will continue to strive to produce the best outcomes possible no matter the circumstances.