September 30, 2022
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    A burden-free last will

    August 09, 2019

    The Public Trustee’s Department commenced a ‘Free Will Making Service’, which provides free assistance and facilities to all Sri Lankan citizens for drafting their last wills, from Wednesday (7). Now, people can contact the Public Trustee’s Department and get their last will written within a day without having to pay a fee, Public Trustee Sanath Weeratne, PC, told the Daily News.

    According to the Public Trustee, now, people do not have to incur any expense to draw up their last will by engaging a private lawyer. The people, regardless of their income level, can get their last will written by an expert panel of lawyers at the Public Trustee’s Department.

    People can keep their last wills at the Public Trustee’s Department for safekeeping, if they wish. Those who own assets worth less than Rs. 4 million can obtain this service, while others who possess assets worth over Rs. 4 million have to get their last wills drawn up by private lawyers.

    All what they need to do is contact the Public Trustee’s Department (see box).

    “In the past, the only function performed by the department was to keep last wills in safe custody. But now we have started writing their last wills as well. We will raise awareness among people about this new service through awareness campaigns at hospitals and other public places. This new service will decrease the burden of the public by preventing them from going to courts, filing cases and getting their properties divided.

    The service will also reduce the burden of our judiciary system in which a large number of court cases related to the division of properties exists. When a person writes his or her last will, the children or relations do not need to file cases and get the properties divided among them. The other important fact is that this service assists to continue the legacy of the dead,” Public Trustee Weeratne, PC, said.

    The Public Trustee said he would make recommendations to the Justice Minister to establish an Advisory Board for the Department, modeled on that of the Queensland Public Trustee (in Australia) which offers the free service of writing last wills. It has written 28,000 last wills in the last financial year, of which 93 percent have named the Public Trustee as executor. “This shows the trust and reputation it enjoys. We need to implement the same here and improve the transparency of the system and functions. We need to amend Ordinance No. 01 of 1922 to match the current requirements of the country and its citizens,” he said.

    “From the inspection or study tours in foreign countries, we gain knowledge of advanced mechanisms which would assist to provide a better service to the public through the development of our systems or institutions. The Advisory Board for the Public Trustee’s Department will be a ‘guardian angel’ to the department. It will not be involved in the day-to-day functions of the department. It should consist of retired professionals such as the Registrar General, Auditor General, Attorney General and the IGP. The expertise of a private sector company can also be obtained. The Public Trustee is the seventh-most important citizen in Sri Lanka in the citizenship protocol. The lost glory of the Public Trustee’s Department can be brought back through these steps,” he said.

    Today, New Zealand, which introduced the concept of the Public Trustee to the world on January 1, 1873, has a Board and an Executive Team. This system is same in several other countries. Sri Lanka’s Public Trustee’s Department functions like every other Public Trustee’s Department in the world, while building up links with them to offer a more efficient service to the people.

    The Office of Public Trustee of Sri Lanka has been incorporated under Ordinance No. 01 of 1922 and has been amended by Ordinance No. 11 of 1931, 59 of 1938 and Law No. 44 of 1973, 25 of 1975 and Act No. 41 of 1983, 61 of 1988 and the Public Trustee shall, subject to the provisions of this Ordinance and rules made hereunder, be capable of being appointed and of acting under that name.

    Law of Trusts in Sri Lanka is been regulated under the Trust Ordinance, No. 9 of 1917 amended by Ordinance No. 4 of 1918, 01 of 1934 and Act No. 7 of 1968, 30 of 1971. And further according to Sec. 2 of the Trusts Ordinance, where there are no specific provision made under this Ordinance or any other written law, shall be determined by the principles of equity for the time being in force in the High Court of Justice in England.

    There are specific general powers and duties of the Public Trustee.

    The Public Trustee shall, subject to the provisions of Public Trustee Ordinance, Civil Procedure Code, Judicature Act and other enactments and rules made there under, be capable of being appointed and of acting under that name

    1) As an ordinary trustee, as a custodian trustee,

    2) As collector of estates under an order to collect,

    3) As curator of the estate of a minor, as the next friend or guardian for the action under Chapter XXXV of the Civil Procedure Code of any minor or person of unsound mind,

    4) As a manager of the estate of a person of unsound mind (when entrusted by the district court),

    5) As manager of immovable property upon a contract on terms and conditions as may be mutually agreed upon. (where the Public Trustee is appointed as custodian trustee he is obligated to exercise of the powers of management or any other power of discretion vested in such board of Managing Trustees)

    6) As attorney for persons absent from Sri Lanka for the purpose of receiving and paying money.

    7) Under the Civil Procedure Code the Public Trustee shall be deemed to be a suitable person as a manager of an estate.

    8) As an administrator of an intestate estate under the Civil Procedure Code.

    9) As a custodian trustee of properties of person who is serving a sentence in prison.

    10) The Public Trustee may accept the custody for the purpose of safe keeping a last will of any living person.

    11) Public Trustee as a trustee of the compensation given to the acquisition of temple property.

    There are specific powers and duties vested in the Public Trustee underwritten Laws and Amendments to the Public Trustee Ordinance. Under the provisions of other written laws and amendments made to the public trustee ordinance, following Powers and duties are being vested on Public Trustee.

    l Under the Sec. 10 A of the Public Trustee Ordinance as amended by Act No. 61 of 1988, Public Trustee shall act as the body who distributes any compensation received upon the death of persons while in overseas employment among their dependents and/or heirs. Further, any Sri Lankan citizen proceeding for employment outside Sri Lanka may register with the Public Trustee for the purpose of regulating and ensuring efficient distribution of any compensation which shall be payable in the event of their death while in employment.

    l Payment of compensations related to Buddhist temples under Act No 61 of 1988.

    l Under the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (Special Provisions) Law, No. 28 of 1973, the shares of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, Limited shall vest with the Public Trustee for the benefit of the government.

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