In the High Court matter, Bester N.O. v The Master of the High Court and others, the executor of the late D.H.’s estate, faced a significant challenge in finalising the estate due to a lack of liquid funds. He needed to sell the estate's main asset to settle debts and cover various fees. However, this decision required the consent of the sole heir, F.H. Despite seeking approval from the Master of the High Court for the proposed sale, no response was received. As a result, the executor turned to the court to authorise the sale of the estate's immovable property.
Facts of the Case
The executor sought an order permitting the sale of the primary asset to obtain the necessary funds for estate settlement. Unfortunately, the sole heir did not consent to the property's sale. According to Section 47 of the Administration of Estates Act 66 of 1965, such a sale necessitates the heir's consent to the sale's manner and conditions. If this consent is not granted, the property can be sold with the approval of the Master. Despite multiple attempts to obtain approval from the Master and even reaching out to the Minister of Justice, no response was received. Consequently, the executor approached the court to approve the sale's manner and conditions.
Section 47 of the Administration of Estates Act outlines the process for property sales by an executor. It states that property should be sold in a manner and subject to conditions approved by the heirs or, in the absence of an agreement, by the Master. The Master's non-responsiveness in this case raised questions about how Section 47 could be applied when the necessary consent was not provided and whether the court could step in to provide the required approval.
In interpreting Section 47, the court emphasised the importance of considering the section's text, context, and purpose. It clarified that the legislature aimed to ensure that heirs' opinions were considered in determining the sale's manner and conditions. Even when the Master's approval was sought, the heirs' views remained relevant.
The court cited the "golden thread" from various laws, emphasising the need to attain the best possible price for the benefit of heirs when selling estate assets. It was noted that even if a single heir does not consent to the executor's proposed sale conditions, the Master's approval is still required.
In conclusion, the court's ruling highlighted that the negligence of the Master's Office would not be overlooked, emphasising their duty to act within a specified timeline. The court outlined the broad discretion of the Master under Section 47, to be exercised to obtain the best possible price for heirs. Although the court couldn't substitute the Master's decision, it noted the Master's dysfunction in the approval process .It returned the matter to the Master's Office with a clear deadline for a decision. The court warned that the Master's wilful failure to comply would constitute contempt of court.
Written by: Micaela Hermans
Moderated and approved by: Clive Smith