A curator bonis is a person who is appointed to manage the financial affairs of someone declared incapable of managing their own affairs. It is possible for such a curator to be appointed to a person of sound mind but unsound habits, such as a prodigal or someone who suffers from severe physical defects.

In the recent judgment of CC v Van Rensburg & Others[1] the Court was tasked with determining whether a person of sound mind but having a low income and inadequate education could manage their own financial affairs after receiving a large monetary award.

The facts of the case:

The crux of this matter turned on whether an adult of sound mind with a low level of education and no prior exposure to managing a large estate may be trusted to effectively manage her financial affairs and thus be released from her curatorship.

In this matter the Patient was in a motor vehicle accident wherein she sustained mild brain and shoulder injuries and serious facial injuries which impacted her short term memory. As a result the Patient was unable to take up gainful employment and was declared disabled. Despite this and her low income, she was able to run her household and care for her youngest daughter with some financial assistance from the Patient’s eldest daughter and her mother.

In 2017 the Patient won her legal battle against the RAF and was awarded R2 280 850.00. In October of that same year a curator bonis was appointed. This appointment came about because the Patient was declared to be incapable of managing her own affairs and not because she was of unsound mind.  Over the years the curator had been rude and hostile towards the patient, refused her access to funds which she wished to utilize to uplift her community and donate to her mother and sister who had helped her previously.  The curator believed that she was not sufficiently educated to manage the award, that she was of borderline intelligence and would be too easily swayed by family and her community to squander the money.

The basis for the application to remove the curator is that the Patient has recovered from her injuries, she is compos mentis and fully capable of managing her own affairs.

The legal principles applicable:

The appointment of a curator bonis and the exercise of their powers is subject to the control of the Master. In this matter the court emphasized the need for a curator to ensure that they do not discharge their duties in a purely commercial basis at the expense of cultural, familial and community systems which have been established and rely on the interdependence of people. Moreover, the court was alive to the concern that allowing a curatorship to continue on the basis of the Patient’s income and education would endorse the unfounded belief that it is only persons who have received a Western education who have the inherent right and capabilities to manage large sums of money.

South Africa is a multicultural society wherein many factions are based in communal living and the principal of Ubuntu. To allow this misconception of African culture to continue cannot be condoned in a country where persons, especially those of lower income and education, place high value on community living above individualism.

The outcome:

The appointment of a curator is a serious invasion of a person’s liberty, dignity and control of their destiny.[2] The Court ultimately determined that the Patient was of sound mind and thus capable of managing her own affairs. The Patient was thereby released from her curatorship.

Conclusion

Curatorships are a complex matter and laymen can find themselves in the situation, similar to that discussed above, not knowing their rights or where to obtain advice. Van Wyk Van Heerden Attorneys are well-versed in such matters and are competent and qualified to assist and offer guidance to people in situations of curatorship in order to ensure that the legal decisions regarding curatorships are in the best interests of the affected person.

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[1] [2022] 15472-2020 (WCC).

[2] Modiba obo Ruca v Road Accident Fund.