PM: Bill may end’nightmarish’probate process
The Probate and Administration of Estates Bill is expected to put an end to the”nightmarish”process of administering the estate of a person who has died, according to Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.
The bill seeks to repeal a part of the Supreme Court Act that relates to the provisions that deal with Probate Causes and Matters and to consolidate and modernize the law regarding a grant of probate or letters of administration and resealing a foreign grant. In short, the bill seeks to consolidate into one statute all the laws relating to the administration of an estate.
Ingraham, who led the debate in the House of Assembly yesterday morning, said the bill is a part of the government’s ongoing effort”to modernize and bring up to date, outdated laws and procedures which contribute to inefficiencies and costliness and time-consuming nuisance processes to the annoyance and disadvantage of people.”
“These processes and procedures though still supported by some, have no place in a modern Bahamas,”he added.”
“It is nearly a nightmare to administer the estate of a deceased person in The Bahamas. Administration of an estate ought to be a simple, straightforward undertaking. Regrettably it[isn’t]so. Hopefully it will become so upon the coming into force of this bill and the promulgation of rules by the Rules Committee of the Supreme Court.”
One of the major components of the bill is the establishment of a depository for wills.
If the bill is passed, persons would be able to deposit their original wills and other testamentary documents for the safe custody and preservation of such documents under the control and direction of the chief justice. A fee would be applied for the deposits.
A will deposited would only be open to inspection by the testator during his lifetime, or, upon proof of the death of the testator, by the personal representative named in the will or his attorney or by any beneficiary named in the will or his attorney. The law would also provide for the will to be removed or substituted at any time.
Ingraham said the bill also seeks to clarify the procedure for making an application to obtain a grant of representation in respect of the estate of a deceased person even if that person left no estate.
He said the clause specifically provides for such applications to be made to the Probate Division of the Registry of the Supreme Court, which includes any sub-registry of the Probate Division.
“This new concept providing for applications to be made to a sub-registry will assist in reducing the present burdensome number of applications made to the main registry in New Providence.
“At present, however, this feature can only be facilitated in Grand Bahama but the intention is to provide for self-sufficient sub-registries in other Islands,”he said.
Another clause of the bill introduces a provision that provides for the penalty for persons found making a false declaration in respect of an application under the act.
Penalties would also be levied against those convicted of destroying, stealing or hiding a will. The fines would not exceed$5,000. Convicted persons may also be jailed for up to five years for the latter three offenses.
The bill also sets out guidelines for an employer to pay money owed to a deceased employee.
It provides for payment to a person identified by the employee in cases where an employee(other than a public officer)has died and is entitled to sums from his employer; the employer has in his possession a document under oath identifying payment to a specified person.
Ingraham said he prays that the committee chaired by the chief justice will see its way clear to make clear, simple and transparent rules so that an estate in respect of which there is no legal challenge may be administered speedily.
The probate process is known to take up to two years to complete.