Commisioners not allowed to charge for services

Joyce Gouvea, 61, with the R600 'will'

A Bonteheuwel pensioner nearly lost R600 when she paid to have a will drawn up, but thanks to an Athlone News inquiry, she was able to get her money back.

A relieved Joyce Gouvea, 61, said she had given up on the idea that she would get her money back – most of which she had borrowed.

Ms Gouvea explained that she approached Chief Apostle Lanie Philander, a Commissioner of Oaths in Bonteheuwel, to help draw up her brother’s will.

Western Cape regional head of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Advocate Hishaam Mohamed, said, however, that Mr Philander could face a criminal charge, as Commissioners of Oaths are not allowed to charge for services, and it is illegal for a Commissioner of Oaths to draw up a will.

“A Commissioner of Oaths can commission a document – to confirm it is a true copy of the original,” Advocate Mohamed said.

Ms Gouvea’s brother, Dennis Stevens, who is unemployed, appointed Ms Gouvea as the executor of his will.

Said Ms Gouvea: “I made contact with Mr Philander, because my brother was spending a few days with me, so that we could draw up his will. His wife died recently, and my brother is unemployed. Being his eldest sister, I took it upon myself to help him sort this out.

“We set up an appointment and when we went to see him, he told us that it would cost R600, as he needs to ask his lawyer to draw up the will. I gave him a R100 deposit, and told him I’m a pensioner, and would only have the rest of the money at month-end. He phoned me on Monday June 6, to say I can come and collect the will, but he wanted to hear nothing about waiting for the balance of the payment. I was then forced to borrow the R500 to pay him. I was so disappointed to see the document he gave me. It was a half-page typed letter. This is definitely not a document that was drawn up by a lawyer. There were no witness signatures and he misspelled my name and used tippex and rewrote my name by hand. I trusted him because he is a man of God. We are all underprivileged in Bonteheuwel, and I lost my money now, but I would not like others to go through the same thing,” Ms Gouvea said initially.

When approached for comment, Mr Philander said he was not aware that it was illegal for him to charge for his services, adding that “paperwork and my stamp cost money”. He admitted that he had drawn up the will and had not employed the services of a lawyer.

“I was not home when she made initial contact. I was in Macassar, but she insisted. I told her a lawyer costs a lot of money, and asked her whether she could afford to pay me the R600. I made three copies of the document, and gave them two copies and I kept one.”

When the Athlone News pointed out to Mr Philander that he had acted unlawfully and could face a criminal charge, he said Ms Gouvea should return the documents to him so that he could destroy them and that he would give her her money back.

An overjoyed Ms Gouvea thanked the Athlone News for the assistance, as she got her money back on Friday June 10.

* The Justice of the Peace and Commissioner of Oaths Act outlines the powers and duties of Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of Oaths.

According to the act, the Department of Justice appoints both Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of Oaths. A Justice of the Peace’s primary responsibility involves keeping peace and order through the power of the courts, while a Commissioner of Oath’s primary responsibility involves administering an oath to, or receiving a legal declaration from a specific person.The Act also stipulates that a person may become a Justice of the Peace or a Commissioner of Oaths without being appointed by the Department of Justice. Such a qualification is termed “ex officio,” or by means of a position already held. For example, the act lists professional accountants in South Africa as ex officio Commissioners of Oaths.