Answer to a question from a reader

The previous lawyer who dealt with my father's estate refuses to return money owed to us. What can we do?

The short answer

You can lay a complaint with the Legal Practice Council.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

What can I do about our attorney who put my father's money into a trust fund, paid out 80% from it for the new house we subsequently bought, and now refuses to release the remaining money? She said we can't claim the remaining 20% as we had moved my father’s account to another agent and she no longer had any money belonging to us. She then blocked my telephone number.

The long answer

Did the attorney claim that you owed her money? Did she issue an account? 

If you had moved the account to another attorney, before she had released the funds, surely the new attorney would have the funds? I’m sure you would have checked on these questions, but just in case…

In terms of the  Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014, all legal practitioners, both advocates and attorneys, fall under the regulations and the discipline of the Legal Practice Council (LPC). The LPC is there to protect members of the public from irresponsible or dishonest practices, and the public can make a complaint against an attorney or advocate with the LPC which will investigate the complaint if it is one of the following:  

  • Persistent delays in answering letters.

  • Failure to account for money held on the client’s behalf.

  • Improper, unprofessional or unethical conduct.

  • Failing to give proper attention to a matter.

There is a complaint form that you have to fill in which you can download from the Law Society of South Africa website. Or you can go to any one of the offices listed at the end of this email and get a form there.

There is also a body called the Legal Practitioners’ Fidelity Fund (LPPF) which was set up to reimburse members of the public who lost money or property entrusted to an attorney in the following ways:

  • in the course of his/her practice as such, or (my emphasis)

  • where an attorney acts as executor or administrator in a deceased estate, or

  • as a trustee in an insolvent estate, or in any similar capacity; or

  • pending registration of the transfer of immovable property, or settlements in personal injury claims.

The Fund will not reimburse loss suffered as a result of negligence or carelessness by an attorney in the conduct of their practice, nor will it cover business transactions, money handed to an attorney to invest, nor loans to an attorney.

These are the addresses for the Legal Practice Council:

National Office

Thornhill Office Park, Building 20, 94 Bekker Road, Vorna Valley, Midrand
Tel 010 001 8500

Provincial Offices

Gauteng Office
Procforum Building, 123 Paul Kruger Street, Pretoria
Tel (012) 338 5800

North West Office
No2 Aerodrome Crescent Road, Mahikeng
Tel (018) 011 0093

Limpopo Office
2 Biccard Street, Unit 2 JCJ Building, Polokwane
Tel (015) 590 0389

Northern Cape Office
219 Du Toitspan Rd, Belgravia, Kimberley
Tel (053) 050 0508/9:

Mpumalanga Office
18 Bell Street, Bell Towers, ground floor, Nelspruit
Tel (017) 200 2487

Eastern Cape Office
44 Pearce Street, Berea, East London
Tel (043) 050 1025;

Western Cape Office
29th Floor, ABSA Centre, 2 Riebeek Street, Cape Town
Tel (021) 443 6700

Kwazulu – Natal Office
1st Floor, 200 Hoosen Haffejee Street, Pietermaritzburg
Tel (033) 345 1304

Free State Office
139 Zastron Street, Westdene, Bloemfontein
Tel (051) 447 3237

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Sept. 5, 2023, 11:21 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.