Sun | Apr 30, 2017

Editorial: Positive move on probate law

Published:Thursday | April 23, 2015 | 4:00 AM

It is not, on the face of it, particularly sexy. But last week's overhaul by the Senate of the Administrator-General's Act is of great potential value to the beneficiaries of the estates or people who die without wills, while helping, and the justice minister Mark Golding observed, to unclog the country's over-burdened courts.

The problem of this government agency was highlighted by this newspaper a year ago when our count drew attention to the fact that of the 8,000 cases in the department's portfolio half were multi-generational matters, having been on the books for more than two decades and, in a handful, up to 70 years. Further, of the approximately 1,000 estates being actively managed by the administrator general, the accounts of 12-and-half per cent were in arrears, and in the case of the dwellings under its control that it rented, tenants were in arrears for up to a decade.

Part of the problem was that the Administrator General Department didn't have the resources to do its job effectively, in terms of lawyers and support staff. Like some other government departments it was under funded.

But critically, too, it operated under an old law that rendered the administration of the estates of persons who die intestate, or without wills, a complicated, slow and harrowing process, especially in a country whose courts are backlogged with hundreds of thousands of cases. Every new case of intestacy with legacies that requires resolution joins this queue.

With the bill passed by the Senate, and is headed to the House, the administrator general will have the power to give the green light to proceed with the administration of an intestate estate, without the approval of a court, which is good news for thousands of people, some of whom, given Jamaica's social environment, have grown old waiting for the status of estates to be resolved and to receive benefits - if ever.

It is estimated that more than 2,000 estates, valuing more than J$2 billion could be untangled by this move. And these are mostly in a sector of the society where the unlocking of these resources will have positive impact on people's economic well-being and, ultimately, the broader economy. Moreover, as Golding said, the amendments should relieve pressure on the probate registry of the supreme and magistrates' courts, thus freeing space and time to handle other matters. This move to modernise the legislation is, therefore, welcome and should be completed with haste by the other chamber of the legislature.

We don't know what will eventually come of Jermaine Henry's project when it hits the rough of tumble world of the market. Mr Henry, nonetheless, epitomises the kind of attitude necessary in the creation of a modern, economically prosperous Jamaica: innovative and pioneering.

He has developed a computer-based market platform for the trading of agricultural products which has been tested with Jamaican farmers and their domestic buyers. At the Talent and Innovative Competition held in the margins of the recent Summit of the Americas in Panama, Mr Henry's team won the prize for economic innovation from among 32 projects from 17 countries. That was impressive.

We hope that Mr Henry's idea becomes a business success. It may not. But that would not be failure.

As was hoped he, and others appreciate, in an entrepreneurial environment all ideas and efforts don't succeed. What makes the difference is the willingness to reconfigure and rebound and how others draw inspiration from people like Jermaine Henry.