Attorneys have launched an urgent bid for access to the Master's Office in Cape Town, saying that they have effectively been locked out during lockdown. This has apparently left estate assets essentially in limbo and resulted in serious economic consequences for attorneys, their practices and their clients, says a News24 report.

The Cape Town Attorneys Association described the situation as ‘unacceptable’.

Last month, Marien du Preez, of HL van Zyl Attorneys, lodged an urgent appeal with the Master's Office and Justice Department to remedy the situation.

‘Due to Covid 19 and the eventual lockdown, no attorneys are allowed in the Master's Office, bar only to lodge correspondence with the postal clerk,’ she said in her e-mail.

'We have no recourse to follow up on any of our matters, especially at the critical stages of applying for appointments (deceased estates or trusts). We are barred from entry to any of the levels relating to deceased estates, trusts and curatorships. Telephone and e-mail inquiries are left unanswered and correspondence simply ignored.’

Du Preez said there was no institution in the country that allowed access to the assets of a deceased estate without a letter of executorship, nor the administration of a trust or curatorship without a letter of authority.

‘Liquidation cannot take place. Transfer of ownership cannot take place, payment of estate duty, income tax and capital gains tax cannot take place,’ she said. ‘The gate is effectively shut. The consequences are exponential.

Du Preez said they appreciated the challenges of a reduced workforce and issues around Covid-19, but required urgent intervention to create a channel of effective communication.

Failing this, they said a legal bid may be unavoidable.

To make matters worse, the Master's Office in Cape Town was closed on Thursday and Friday for decontamination ‘due to another Covid-19 positive case’, observes the News24 report.

Justice Department spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said: ‘Staff are currently working three days in the office and two days from home. We have requested stakeholders to provide us with their outstanding lists, some of which (have been) received.’

The Justice Department said two officials had responded to the complainant personally to ‘forge better relations’.

Full News24 report (subscription needed)