MPs enact new family property sharing law

Acting Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Muruli Mukasa, while tabling the Succession (Amendment Bill) 2021 on the flow of Parliament on February 8.  Photo/David Lubowa

What you need to know:

  • Under the new Act,  children inherit 75 percent of the wealth of a parent, grand-parent and or great grandparent.
  • During Tuesday’s debate on the Bill before its enactment, Ms Rwakoojo told Parliament the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee had rejected recommendations to exempt Muslims from the reach of the new succession law. 

Members of Parliament have enacted a new law detailing how family property should be shared in the event that one of the spouses dies without a will.

Under the Succession (Amendment) Act, 2021, which the House passed on Tuesday evening, a husband or wife will inherit 20 percent of the other’s wealth, depending on who dies first and intestate.
If the deceased is a polygamous man, all the widows will share 20 percent portion of his wealth, said Ms Robinah Rwakoojo, the chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee that scrutinised the Bill.
The 10th Parliament initially enacted this legislation in April 2021, but President Museveni returned it for reconsideration on grounds that provisions in the original version risked creating tension between surviving spouse and dependent relatives.

He argued that the Act, as it was, would interfere with a beneficiary’s interests as it increased the surviving spouse’s share from 50 to 80 percent while reducing that of dependent relatives from 49 to 20 percent.
The President opined that such unequal wealth distribution was more likely to fuel misunderstandings between a surviving spouse and a dependent relative.
Thus, Mr Museveni returned the Act for reconsideration by Parliament. However, the term of the 10th Parliament lapsed before its members reexamined the Act, prompting a new Bill to be tabled to salvage the provisions.

Under the new Act, enacted, among others, to cure gaps in the 1906 Succession Act breeding family property sharing wrangles when a spouse dies without a will, lineal descendants inherit 75 percent of the wealth of a parent, grand-parent and or great grandparent.
In law, lineal descendants refer to direct children, grandchildren or great grandchildren.
The MPs also decided that dependent relatives get 4 percent of the assets of a departed spouse while a customary heir, or caretaker, is entitled to only one percent of such property.
The Act defines a dependent relative to include a parent, sibling, a niece or nephew, a grandparent or grandchild who was wholly dependent on the deceased for necessities.

In the event a spouse is survived by school-age children, the Act ring-fences 20 percent of the 75 percent they are entitled to, for education expenses.
In addition, all residential holdings are to be passed onto lineal descendants, and cannot be sold.
“A person who evicts or attempts to evict lawful occupant of the residential holding or any other residential holding, commits an offence and is liable [on conviction] to a fine not exceeding one hundred and sixty-eight currency points (Shs3.4m), or imprisonment not exceeding seven years, or both,” reads Clause 13 of the Act.

Where a spouse leaves no children, the surviving partners shall possess 50 percent of the property, dependent relatives get 49 percent while the heir will take 1 percent. When one is not married, the dependents snap up 99 percent of the wealth, and the heir takes 1 percent.
Lawmakers also amended Section 2 of the Act to outlaw references to “illegitimate child”, substituting it with child produced outside wedlock.
 The Act, which pends presidential assent, also grants a separated spouse, or a widow, rights to share in the property of a deceased former husband if allowed by courts.

 Former minister Sarah Opendi, who doubles as Tororo Woman MP, yesterday welcomed the new legislation as liberal and non-discriminatory as it entitles widowers to share in the property of departed wives.
“If I leave this earth early and leave you (my husband) here, you can get some shares from what I would have invested,” Ms Opendi said, adding, “We hope that his Excellency, the President, will ascent to this [Act] because it was among those handled in the 10th Parliament...”

 During Tuesday’s debate on the Bill before its enactment, Ms Rwakoojo told Parliament the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee had rejected recommendations to exempt Muslims from the reach of the new succession law.  
Instead, the Committee recommended that another law be prepared and enacted to harmonise the legal regime with existing Sharia Law provisions that also deal with inheritance.

The Sharia law recognises two types of beneficiaries or heirs; Sharers and Residuary. Sharers are the ones who are qualified for a specific offer in the deceased’s property. As per the law, the Sharers include husband, wife, daughter, grandson, father, paternal grandfather, mother, full sister, consanguine sister, uterine sister and brother.
During committee stage of the Bill, the Muslim community argued that provisions of the revised Succession (Amendment) Act contradict the Sharia law.
The Bill was first introduced in 2018 by Ms Rosette Kajungu Mutambi, the Mbarara District Woman Member of Parliament, and passed by the 10th parliament in April 2021.

 Ms Anita Among, the deputy speaker of Parliament, on Tuesday said the issues that were previously raised by President Museveni (in the rejected Act) had been addressed and hoped that if assented to, the law will help resolve family wrangles over the estate of the deceased.

Death with Will
According to the new law, whereas those who leave a will have the discretion to distribute their property, there are sections they must comply with.
The Act grants courts powers, under Section 38, to: “Where a person dies domiciled in Uganda and by his or her will, disposes of all his or her property without making reasonable provision for the maintenance of his or her spouse, lineal descendant or dependant relative, court may on application, order that such reasonable provision be made out of the estate of the deceased person for the maintenance of the spouse, lineal descendant or dependant relative.”

Objectives of new legislation
(a) Align the Succession Act to Article 31 (Rights of the family), Article 32 (Affirmative action in favour of marginalised groups) and Article 33 (Rights of women) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda;
(b) Provide for the distribution of estates of intestate deceased persons in accordance with Article 33 (Rights of women) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda;

(c) Provide for the guardianship of minor children of deceased persons; to provide for the discretion of courts in the grant of probate and letters of administration;
(d) Provide for an expiry period of two years for grants of probate and letters of administration;
(e) Provide for the requirement of the consent of spouses and lineal descendants prior to disposal of estate property by administrators;
(0) provide for the joint administration of executors and administrators of estates; and
(g) Remove from the Act, all the obsolete terms used therein.

 Inheritance under Muslim (Sharia) law
If a male Muslim dies leaving behind a widow and children, then the widow takes 1/8 and the 7/8 residue goes to the children. If he dies leaving behind a widow and no child, then the window takes 1/4. If he dies leaving behind more than one widow, then the widow takes 1/8 and where there are children, she takes 1/4.

If a female Muslim died leaving behind her husband and children, then the husband takes 3/4 as a Sharer and the residue of 1/4 goes to the children. If she dies leaving behind no child, then the husband takes 1/2 as a Sharer.
 

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