Oct 1, 2019
A practical guide to selecting and appointing a Curator Bonis
The ability to make decisions can be impaired because of diminished mental capacity, resulting from a variety of things, requiring the appointment of a curator. Sometimes the impairment is permanent, such as intellectual disability, brain injury or disease, dementia (Alzheimer’s) or incapacity related to ageing. In other cases the damage can be temporary, such as from serious illness, a stroke where the person recovers function, or mental illness. Mental disability and ageing are the most frequent causes of an inability to make effective decisions. Impairment can come on suddenly, for example following an accident or stroke (in the immediate aftermath), or it can be gradual and often dismissed, as in the case of encroaching dementia. Sometimes it takes a significant event for family members to fully accept that their loved one is slowly losing their grip on reality.
The general rule is that majors (those age 18 and above) are presumed mentally and legally competent to manage their own affairs until it is proved to the contrary. But if you have elderly parents, or if you suffer from a degenerative illness that may affect your decision making in future, you may want to think about how you will administer your parents’ affairs…or who will administer yours…should it become necessary.
Appointing a Curator Bonis
There are two ways in which you can appoint someone, called a Curator Bonis, to administer the estate of an individual who is incapable of managing their affairs. We’ll look at each procedure in turn.
1. Common law procedure – application to the High Court
The High Court may declare a person incapable of managing their own affairs, and may appoint a Curator to manage their affairs and/or property. The procedure for this is set out in Rule 57 of the Uniform Rules of the High Court.
Anyone who wants to apply to the court for such an order must first apply for the appointment of a Curator Ad Litem. This application is by way of notice of motion and must contain:
- Full particulars of the locus standi (the right to make the application) of the applicant
- Jurisdiction of the court
- The age and sex of the person considered incapable, full particulars of their means, and information as to their general state of physical health
- The relationship between this person and the applicant, and the duration and intimacy of their association (if any)
- The facts and circumstances provided as evidence that the person is of unsound mind and incapable of managing their affairs
- The name, occupation and address of the respective persons suggested for appointment by the court as Curator Ad Litem, and subsequently as Curator Bonis of the person’s affairs or property, and a statement that these people have been approached and have indicated that, if appointed, they would be able and willing to act in these respective capacities
The application should be supported by:
- An affidavit by someone who knows the person well, containing facts and information about the person’s medical condition. The affidavit must also set out the relationship between the deponent (the referee) and the person, and the deponent’s interest in the matter
- Two recent medical reports by medical practitioners, one of whom should (where practicable) be a psychiatrist, who have conducted recent examinations of the person to determine their medical condition. The reports must contain the facts about the condition and opinions about the nature, extent and likely duration of any mental disorder or defect observed. They must comment on the person’s inability to manage their affairs. The medical practitioners should not be related to the person or have any interest in the matter
The court will then appoint a Curator Ad Litem (usually an advocate of that court) to investigate the matter fully and report to the court and the Master [Rule 57(4) & (5)]. The Curator Ad Litem will interview the person and make any further enquiries necessary. They will then prepare and file a report with the Registrar of the court.
The Master also compiles a report after receiving the Curator Ad Litem’s report, making recommendations to the court regarding the merits of the application, the suitability of the nominated curator, their powers and security [Rule 57(7)]. Upon consideration of the application, the reports from the Curator Ad Litem and the Master, and any other relevant information, the court will issue the order if necessary [Rule 57(10)].
When the High Court appoints a curator to administer someone’s estate, they may not act on that appointment until formally authorised by the Master of the High Court. Section 71 of the Administration of Estates Act 66 of 1965 provides that no one who has been nominated, appointed or assumed as curator may administer any property belonging to the person under care until authorisation is received via letters of curatorship.
2. The procedure for the appointment of an administrator as set out in the Mental Health Care Act, 17 of 2002
In terms of the Mental Health Care Act, the Master of the High Court may, after considering and processing the required application, appoint an administrator to manage the property of a person who has been diagnosed as mentally ill or a person with severe or profound intellectual disability.
While the common law application is appropriate for any situation where the person is incapable of managing their own affairs, this application is only relevant in the case of mental illness or severe or profound disability. The diagnosis will have to be confirmed by medical certificates or reports by a mental health care practitioner duly authorised to make such a diagnosis.
Because no High Court application is required for the appointment of an administrator, the procedure is far less costly than the common law appointment of a Curator Bonis. The application can be lodged directly with the Master of the High Court in the relevant jurisdiction (where the person needing the administrator resides). The applicant does not need to use an attorney, although a good family lawyer’s assistance in lodging the application with the Master can make the task much easier.
The application procedure for the appointment of a curator in terms of the Mental Health Care Act is set out in section 60 of the Act and provides as follows:
- Any person over the age of 18 may apply to a Master of a High Court for the appointment of an administrator for a mentally ill person or person with severe or profound intellectual disability.
- The application must be made in writing, under oath or solemn affirmation and must:
- Set out the relationship of the applicant to that person
- State the reason why the spouse or next of kin did not make the application, if the applicant is not a spouse or next of kin of that person
- Describe the steps taken to establish the whereabouts of the next of kin before making the application, if they are not available to make the application
- Include all available mental health-related medical certificates or reports relevant to the mental health status of that person and to their incapacity to manage their property
- Set out the grounds on which the applicant believes the person is incapable of managing their property
- State that, within seven days immediately before submitting the application, the applicant had seen the person
- State the particulars of the person and their estimated property value and annual income
- Give the particulars and contact details of anyone who may provide further information relating to the mental status of the person
- The applicant must attach proof that a copy of the application has been submitted to the mentally ill person.
Powers of a curator
The powers and responsibilities of a curator or administrator are primarily to administer the estate of the person who is incapable of managing their own affairs, including the following:
- To receive, take care of, control and administer all the assets
- To carry on/or discontinue, subject to any law which may be applicable, any trade, business or undertaking
- To acquire, whether by purchase or otherwise, any property, movable or immovable, for the benefit of the estate
- To apply any money for the maintenance, support or towards the benefit of the person; to invest or re-invest any funds etc.
These powers are usually subject to the prior consent and approval of the Master.
Contact a specialist family lawyer
While an attorney may not be explicitly required under the second procedure above, in both cases a family lawyer experienced in estate planning and management will make a complex and difficult situation easier to understand and manage. There are multiple steps in the process of appointing a curator, and it is important to ensure nothing is left out. There may be other considerations, too, such as a will and life insurance provisions. Don’t put the financial wellbeing of your loved one at risk. Contact family lawyer Cape Town for a consultation. Speak to Simon on 086 099 5146 or firstname.lastname@example.org today for more information or to make an appointment.
Use our handy checklist to make sure you have everything you need.
Read our blog post on the different types of curatorships and administrators.