It might happen that you have heard people talking about being insolvent and that their assets are sequestrated. This article will take you through the meaning of Insolvency for a person (NOT a company – that is Liquidation and will be covered in a later blog).  We will also discuss who a debtor is for the purposes of insolvency, the purpose of a sequestration order and who may be sequestrated.

Meaning of: “Insolvency”

A person is insolvent when his liabilities exceed his/her assets. Inability to pay debt is, at most, merely evidence of insolvency.

A person who has insufficient assets to discharge his/her liabilities, although satisfying the test of insolvency, is not treated as insolvent for legal purposes unless his/her estate has been sequestrated by an order of the court.

A sequestration order is a formal declaration by the High Court that a he/she is insolvent.  The order is granted either when he/she voluntarily surrenders their estate or where one or more of his/her creditors apply for compulsory sequestration.  The person in this circumstances is referred to as a debtor (someone who owes money to creditor(s)).

Who can be regarded as a “debtor”?

The term “debtor” is technically wider than just a single person.  It embraces the following:

  • A natural person
  • A partnership
  • A deceased person
  • A person incapable of managing his own affairs
  • An entity or association of persons that is not a juristic person, such as a trust
  • Parties married in Community of Property

The purpose of a sequestration order

The order of sequestration is made by the High Court to secure the orderly and equitable distribution of a debtor’s assets where they are insufficient to meet the claims of all his creditors. A sequestration order is issued by court to execute property belonging to a debtor in order to for the creditors to be paid which in some cases one or a few creditors are being paid, and the rest receiving little or nothing at all. However, the law takes its cause to ascertain that whatever assets the debtor has are liquidated and distributed among all his creditors in accordance with a predetermined fair order of preference.

Once an order of sequestration is granted, a coming together of creditors is established, and the interests of the creditors as a group enjoy preference over the interests of individual creditors.

A creditor’s right recover his claim in full by judicial proceedings is replaced with the right, on proving a claim against the insolvent estate, to share with all other proved creditors in the proceeds of the estate assets.

Apart from what is permitted by the Act, nothing may be done which would diminish the assets of the estate or prejudice the rights of creditors.

The law of insolvency exist primarily for the benefit of the creditors, thus a court will not sequestrate a debtor’s estate unless it’s known that the sequestration will be to the benefit of the creditors. Thus a sequestration order would not be granted if there is only one small creditor or if the debtor’s assets are not sufficient to cover the costs of sequestration, and so the creditors of the debtor would then have to seek individual relief against the debtor by taking judgment against him for nonpayment of debts.  The concept of sequestration being to the benefit of creditors means that each creditor must benefit – receive some dividend from the sequestration order being made.

What may be sequestrated?

Estates that fall with the meaning of the word “estate” with regard to insolvency:

  • An estate that includes assets and liabilities
  • An estate that consists of liabilities only
  • The joint estate of spouses married in community of property
  • The separate estates of spouses married out of community of property
  • The new estate of a debtor whose estate has been sequestrated.

Written by Portia Dlamini