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The duties of an administrator are intended to be a short-lived process says Hon Justice Stephen Mubiru

Anecho Haruna Musa (Legal Representative of Adam Kelili) Vs. Twalib Noah, Adam Juma and Maliyamungu Majid Civil Suit No. 009 of 2008. Judgement Delivered on 9th April 2018.

Before: Hon. Justice Stephen Mubiru

The Plaintiff, Hajji Adam Kelili Onencan obtained letters of administration from the High Court on 28th August 1978 to administer the estate of his late brother the late Musa Kelili Okello. A family meeting was later held at which it was resolved that another administrator be appointed to replace Hajji Adam Kelili Onencan and another grant was subsequently made by the Grade One Magistrates Court at Arua to Haruna Musa Kelili on 14th February 1991 without revocation of the previous grant. Thereafter, by a decree of the grade one Magistrates court of Arua in Civil Suit No. 39 of 1996 between Ahmed Musa and Musa Kelili that grant was on 10th October 1996 revoked and in its place, a fresh grant was made by the same court to Ahmed Musa. Hajji Adam Kelili Onecan having died during the hearing of the suit, a grant of letters of administration to his estate limited to the suit was given to Anecho Haruna Musa.

The defendants dealt with Ahmed Musa as administrator and bought rooms 4, 5 and 6 of the property comprised in LRV 1567 Folio 16 Plot 14 Taban Lane, Arua Municipality.
One of the issues for determination was who is the lawful administrator of the estate of the late Musa Kelili.

Court noted that there were two persons granted letters of administration by two different courts which brought about the entire confusion. The beneficiaries of the estate had in a meeting appointed another administrator without revoking the previous letters of administration granted to the Plaintiff.

The Court held that although the correct position of the law is that a grant remains valid until revoked, equity will not permit justice to be withheld just because of a technicality as reflected in Article 126 (2) (e) of the Constitution. Formalities that frustrate justice will be disregarded and a better approach found for each case. Equity enforces the spirit rather than the letter of the law. In the circumstances of this case, equity demands that the grant made to the Plaintiff on the 28th August 1978 be taken to have been revoked before the grant made by the Grade One Magistrates Court of Arua since Equity treats that which ought to be done as done.

In revoking the letters of administration granted to the Plaintiff, the Court considered the following factors, 1. Failure by the first administrator to give an account to the court that granted the letters of the estate of the deceased for the 40 years he was an administrator as required by law. 2. Failure to distribute the estate within a reasonable period of time (for 40 years the administrator was still in charge and hadn’t distributed the estate) 3. Failure to file an inventory with the required time of six months. 4. mixing the administrator’s personal finances with the estate of the deceased thereby causing a conflict of interest.
Court also made the following important observations.

  1. An administrator of a deceased person is his or her legal representative for all purposes and all the property of the deceased person vests in him or her as such. This means that all assets are then held by the administrator on bare trust for the beneficiaries since the administrator’s role is merely distribution.
  2. An administrator must keep the estate assets totally separate and apart from his own. An administrator should not intermingle the estate assets with his or her personal assets, or use them for his or her purpose.
  3. The duties of an administrator were never designed to take a lifetime to discharge or to be unnecessarily prolonged. It is intended to be a short-lived process.
  4. In general, there is no set time by which an administrator must close an estate and distribute the estate assets but it must be done pursuant to the reasonable person standard. If the administrator does not move things along in a reasonable amount of time, the court or the beneficiaries may intervene.

In conclusion, the court can revoke letters of administration if equity demands so.