Master of the High Court
The Masterís Office is a creature of statute, which is established in terms of section 3 of the Administration of Estates Act [Chapter 6:01]. Its mandate is to protect the financial interests of persons whose estate are, for various reasons, being managed by others, for example deceased persons, minor children, insolvent persons etc.
The office is headed by one Master, who is based in Harare at the Masterís House. The Master is assisted in discharging his mandate by one Deputy Master, who is also based in Harare, and three Additional Masters, ie Additional Master-Deceased Estates, Additional Master-Insolvency & Minors and Additional Master-Bulawayo. Below the Additional Masters are Principal Assistant Masters, Senior Assistant Masters, Assistant Masters and other supporting staff. Magistrates who will be dealing with deceased estates are recognised as Additional Assistant Masters.
Previously, the Masterís Office only had two administrative regions, ie Harare and Bulawayo, but it has decentralized its operations to three more regions and sub-offices, ie in Masvingo, Mutare and Chitungwiza.
The Masterís jurisdiction in the regional offices is the same as that of the High Courts in those regions except for Chitungwiza where the jurisdiction is similar to that of the Chitungwiza Magistrates Court.
The Masterís vision is to establish as many regional and sub-offices as possible countrywide to enable access to justice.
For the regional and sub-offices, the following are the persons in charge;
Bulawayo Ė Mr R. Antonio
Masvingo Ė Ms H. Pasvani
Mutare Ė Ms D. Ngazimbi
Chitungwiza Ė Mrs S. Kashaya
The Masterís office has three main divisions:-
1.The Deceased Estates Division
2.The Insolvency Division
3.The Minors Division, which includes the Guardianís Fund
1.THE DECEASED ESTATES DIVISION
This is the arm of the Masterís Office which administers estates of persons who would have died. Its purpose is to ensure that deceased estates are wound up in compliance with the provisions of the law, and that the process is done in an orderly manner.
The Deceased Estates division can be accessed in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare and Chitungwiza. Also important to note is the fact that in the above mentioned locations, all deceased estates that were previously being administered at Provincial Magistrates Courts are now being handled at the respective Masterís Office.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT ADMINISTRATION OF DECEASED ESTATES
a.Who can register a deceased estate?
The surviving spouse and/or children of the deceased, if there is no such spouse or children then the nearest relative or connection of the deceased should take the initiative to register the estate within 14 days of death, failure of which other classes of persons can also register the estate. Other classes may include tenants, creditors, debtors etc.
b.When should a deceased estate be registered ?
In terms of section 5 of the Administration of Estates Act [Chapter 6:01] an estate should be registered within 14 days of death, by way of completion of a death notice form, which is obtained at the Masterís Office or Magistrates Court that administers deceased Estates. The same provision makes it a criminal offense for one to fail to register an estate within the stipulated time.
c.Where does one go to register a deceased estate ?
Generally the Master, being the authority in charge of administration of all deceased estates, can register any type of estate. However, the place of registration depends on the following:
i.Whether or not the deceased left a will
ii.The type of law applicable to the deceased Ė customary or civil law
If the deceased left a will, the estate should be registered at the Masterís office in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare or Chitungwiza.
If the deceased died without leaving a will then one is guided as follows:
i.For estates where the deceased was married in terms of the Marriage Act [Chapter 5:11] or in terms of the laws of a foreign country, or is a non-resident of Zimbabwe Ė registration should be done at the Masterís Office in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare or Chitungwiza.
ii.For estates where the deceased was married in terms of African customary law or in terms of the Customary Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07] Ė registration should still be done at the Masterís Office except in areas where there is no such office. In that case the estate is registered at the Magistrates Court in that area.
d.Requirements for registration
i.Completed Death Notice form
ii.Completed Preliminary Inventory form
The above mentioned forms, which are mandatory, are obtained at the office of registration. Copies of the death certificate and/or marriage certificate are not mandatory but are required for administration purposes only, thus a person should not be hindered from registering an estate if they do not possess same.
e.Conduct that is regarded as illegal when dealing with deceased estates
i.Failure to register a deceased estate or failure to timeously do so
ii.Concealment of estate assets.
iii.Selling of estate property by who have not been formally appointed as executors.
iv.Selling of estate property, by duly appointed executors, through private treaty without the authority of the Master.
v.Distribution of estate property without the Masterís authority to do so.
vi.Misappropriation of estate funds or properties.
2. THE INSOLVENCY DIVISION
This section administers the estates of insolvent persons, both natural and juristic. The administration is done in terms of the Insolvency Act [Chapter 6:07] and the Companies Act [Chapter 24:03]. This section has jurisdiction over companies under corporate rescue proceedings or liquidation, and estates of natural persons that are under liquidation.
The Master has the responsibility to appoint liquidators and corporate rescue practitioners in accordance with the relevant court orders and Insolvency Act [Chapter 6:07]
2.1 IMPORTANT INFORMANTION TO NOTE
a. Every court order placing a company under corporate rescue or liquidation or placing the estate of a person under liquidation, and every voluntary liquidation resolution shall be advertised in the Gazette and in a widely circulating newspaper.
b.Meetings of creditors are convened by the liquidators or corporate rescue practitioners in consultation with the Master, by notice in the Gazette and widely circulating newspapers. At the creditorsí meetings, creditors prove their claims against the debtor and consider the reports of the liquidator or corporate rescue practitioner, among other things, in terms of section 50 of the Insolvency Act [Chapter 6:07]
c.Creditors must appear personally or be represented by a duly authorized person before the Master for proof of their claims.
d.Payments of sums owed to creditors is to be done by the Liquidator in accordance with distribution accounts approved by the Master.
3.THE MINORS DIVISION (incorporating Guardianís Fund)
This is the section that administers the Guardianís Fund which is established by section 97 of the Administration of Estates Act [Chapter 6:01]. The purpose of the Fund is primarily to protect funds of minors, legally incapacitated persons, unknown or undetermined, absent and untraceable persons, which have been paid into the Guardianís Fund. The Minors Section administers the assets and funds accruing to children under the age of eighteen (18) in fulfillment of the courtís duty as upper guardian of minor children.
3.1IMPORTANT POINTS TO NOTE
a. Claims for monies in the Guardianís Fund can be made by a guardian (in the case of funds belonging to a minor), a beneficiary (in the case of funds belonging to a major, eg a child who has reached 18 claiming a final inheritance) or a curator (in the case of funds belonging to a mentally incapacitated person).
b. To raise a claim, the claimant must submit to the Master, a written claim, stating the reason for the withdrawal of funds, supported by satisfactory identification documents (eg ID, Passport or Driverís Licence) and invoices where applicable. The claimant must also provide the Master with his/her banking details.
c.Claims can be lodged at any of the Masterís offices in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare and Chitungwiza, though payments are done centrally by the Chief Accountant at Harare. Generally, claims are paid (through the bank accounts) within a day of their receipt.
d . After the 30th of April each year, the Master publishes a list of all amounts standing to the credit of persons in the Guardianís Fund which were payable as at the preceding 31st March but were not claimed.
The list is published by notice in the Gazette, with an invitation to persons entitled to the unclaimed monies to submit their claims as aforesaid to the Master.