In 2012, we were contacted to assist with the estate of a deceased South African resident. The contact was made as the deceased had accounts with one of Australia’s major banks. The Deceased Estate Team at the bank had advised that they would need an Australian Grant and that if they required assistance they should contact APEARS to help.

As South Africa is not part of her Majesty’s Dominions a Reseal of the South African Grant of Letters of Executorship was not possible. Rather we would have to apply for Administration with Foreign Will Annexed.

To complete this, various documents from South Africa were requested including Court Sealed Copies of the Letters of Executorship and Will and Certified Copy of the Death Certificate. Once these were received various Court Documents were prepared and returned for execution. When the documents were all executed they were lodged with the Australian Court and after a lengthy wait (not unusual) a Grant was issued.

In the meantime after various inquiries in Australia more assets were located including substantial holdings and unclaimed funds. These did not seem to surprise the client in South Africa. However to claim some of these funds we requested from the client some original documentation previously sent to the deceased. The client informed us that there were no original papers at all and that the Post Box had been closed some time ago.

In my 25 years of experience this started to “smell” a little bit as there were numerous shareholdings and neither the registries involved or the bank had had any mail returned to them. Further questions were raised and the final document received was a Solemn Declaration from a Solicitor in South Africa who concurred that there were no documents on hand. The Declaration was not witnessed and was printed on some strange paper. Upon researching the SA Law Society no mention of the so called Solicitor could be found.

At this stage we froze the file (having already collected in substantial funds) and queried a colleague who we had dealt with in the past in South Africa about the file as a whole. He stated it was probably a scam but that I should get a firm in the local jurisdiction of the deceased to review the documents I was sent. This was done and it turned out that none of the documents were in fact from the Court!!!

For the record, the Estate papers we received appeared normal. The Court Seals were very similar to those seen before. The authorised Court Officers names were correct but from a different Court to that on the apparent Seal. The witnessing person to the applicants’ documents was a named Barrister from a Court case noted on the records from a few years ago. The apparent Solemn Declaration was a mirror in form to one from the same records.

Our first priority was to make sure in fact that the deceased was in fact dead! The Agents now being used in South Africa were able to extract the file form the Court that related to the actual deceased, who was in fact deceased. However his Will left the entire fund to charitable institutions and he did not have any living relatives. The South African Grant furthermore only related to the South African Estate and there was a further Will in the UK dealing with the worldwide estate of the deceased.

In the meantime the so-called “Son” of the deceased had been demanding the file be finished and the funds be released. These demands started coming from a new firm of Solicitors in South Africa who even accused our new agents of being racist against their firm!! Needless to say our constant demands for the “son” to present himself with his original ID cards etc to our agent were ignored…..

We finally traced the firm in the UK who was dealing with the file who had not yet got Probate in the UK and the box of estate papers was still to be reviewed!! The file is still frozen as we await the UK Grant which we will then lodged to be resealed with the Court here together with the revocation request on the original Grant. The end beneficiaries are very grateful that in the end we prevented the theft of their funds.

The agents in South Africa lodged a Law Society Complaint against the firm in South Africa and the Police were informed of the matter. Apparently they do not look too seriously into these sorts of matters so no-one is sure what may happen to the alleged fraudster.

In the course of our investigations, we also found that a similar scam had been occurring in South Africa with some success. It seems that local Banks were the target and the fraudsters were well aware of the Probate and Bank Procedures. It was even suggested in a newspaper article that someone from inside the Court may be involved!

If any clients in NZ receive anything from South Africa extra caution should be taken!!!

PUBLICATION: ENVOY – The newsletter of The New Zealand Institute of Legal Executives
DATE: March 2013
AUTHOR: Andrew Johnstone, APEARS, Sydney, Australia

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