Answer to a question from a reader

How can we revoke our tenant's letter of authority that he got without our knowledge?

The short answer

You could get a copy of his letter of authority from the Master's office but you will probably need legal help to sort this all out.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

After my great-grandmother passed away in 1999, her children did not wind up her estate. Instead, they found a tenant for her house. This tenant now got a letter of authority without our knowledge and transferred the municipal accounts to his name. The house is valued at R150,000 but he never paid the municipal rates, which now amount to R67,000. 

Because we still have the title deed, the municipality has changed the accounts back to the rightful owner but we still can't get a letter of authority for me because one was issued to the tenant in 2012. 

How do we revoke his letter of authority? He refuses to vacate the house as he says he was appointed by the Master (but he also claims to have bought the house from one of my grandmothers). 

The long answer

To get a letter of authority to administer a deceased estate, a person must either be appointed by the will of the deceased person or, if there was no will, nominated by the family/heirs of the deceased person.

Besides documents like the death certificate and a certified ID of the person seeking to get a letter of authority, that person must also hand in to the Master’s Office a nomination form signed by all the heirs. Once all the documents have been lodged with the Master’s Office or the Magistrate’s Court and checked for completeness, a file will be opened in the name of the deceased person.

The letter of authority is issued in terms of section 18(3) of the Administration of Deceased Estates Act of 1965. Three copies of the letter of authority are made: one copy is given to the person appointed; one has to be filed on record, and one is placed in the Annual Performance Plan (APP) file.

A letter of agreement is usually valid for 12 months. If it is for a longer or shorter period, the period must be specified in the letter. The letter gives the Master’s representative the right and duty to administer the estate, which involves seeing that all the debts are paid and that the heirs inherit the property. It does not give the person the right to move into the property. The property can also only be sold if the heirs agree to the sale, or if the debts of the estate cannot be paid without selling it.

Since the family does not know about this letter of authority, it may be worth starting by asking to see the letter of authority which is filed with the Master’s Office. There is a procedure to be followed before you can requisition a file: you have to fill in a form (which you can get from the Master’s Office) which contains the name of the person requesting to see the file, the reasons for requesting to see it, and what interest you personally have in seeing it. You will also have to pay a fee. The office must take 48 hours to assess this request, before approving it or not approving it.  

You can lodge an objection to the Master’s appointment if there are proper grounds, like your great-grandmother or the family not having nominated the person who got the letter of authority.

In terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (“PAJA”), you can ask for a judge to review and set aside a decision of the Master, only once you have exhausted all internal options like applying to the Master’s Office to see the file and lodging a written objection. You have got 180 days after exhausting all internal options to ask a judge to review and set aside the Master’s decision.

I think you will need some legal help to sort all this out. You can apply to Legal Aid, which is a means-tested organisation that must assist people who cannot afford a lawyer. These are their contact details:

Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110

Legal Aid Ethics Hotline: 0800 153 728

Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179

Wishing you the best,

Answered on April 15, 2021, 11:48 a.m.

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Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.