Update on the Deceased Estates Online Portal: Challenges persist

On the 10th of October 2023, Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Ronald Lamola, launched the Master’s Office Deceased Estate Online Registration System. According to Lamola, it was a milestone for how the Masters’ office renders services to the public, making the process more efficient and accessible. To quote the Minister; “This system will be a catalyst to changing this environment…. modernising it, digitising it, and making it accessible to members of the public and also all the professional bodies that operate in the space of the Master’s [office] services,” 1.

In a previous blog post in October 2023, we shared our initial thoughts on the newly launched Online Registration System. We highlighted its potential to transform estate management in South Africa, and its aim to streamline processes and reduce the long waiting times that are typically associated with the winding up of estates. However, our ongoing experience with the system has been somewhat disheartening.

In the seven months since inception, we have reported a total of 25 estates through the online platform. Of the estates reported,  12 have been processed through the system and registered, but we have only received seven Letters of Authority. A further nine estates are stuck in the process without any obvious progress and we are engaging with the Master on outstanding queries on the last four cases. The processing time has far exceeded the mandated 21 days, stretching into weeks and even months, which is a serious concern for the clients that we are trying to assist. In short, the online system is no quicker than reporting a deceased estate manually.

The issues extend beyond slow processing times. We have encountered numerous technical problems that have made using the platform a challenge and which collectively contribute to a frustrating user experience that undermines the efficiency that the system is trying to enhance. This includes:

  • Link failures: crucial links to the Department of Home Affairs and CIPC are frequently non-functional. When these links do not work, users cannot report estates through the portal.
  • Error messages: There are often validation failure messages, but the system does not indicate where the failure is or why it has arisen, making it difficult to rectify .

The Masters Office has also launched a new QR code enhanced Letter of Authority which is supposed to be emailed to the appointee, thereby reducing processing times and the fraudulent administration of estates. However, this is still not working as it should. Of the 12 estates that have been registered, we have received seven Letters of Authority with a QR code. We have not received the other five.

It is encouraging that the Law Society of South Africa is engaging with the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services to address the concerns of the legal profession about the issues at the Masters Offices. The LSSA has made practical suggestions to clear the backlogs and improve efficiencies. The response of the Acting Chief Master has also been encouraging. They have reduced the target to issue Letters of Authority form 21 working days to 15. This is a laudable objective. However, it is far from being achieved. It took the Masters Office a staggering 100 days on average to issue the seven Letters of Authority we have received to date. It is hard to believe that the target the Masters Office has now set itself is in any way achievable.

Overall, our experience with the online registration system has not been a positive one, so much so that we are contemplating a return to manual reporting methods. Despite their own inefficiencies at least they provide a level of reliability and predictability that the online system currently lacks.

Figures: Screenshots of the Deceased Estate Online Registration System showing cases registered all the way back in November for which there has been no progress to date

1 https://www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/new-online-service-milestone-justice-department