Succession Law as it is Developing in Uganda

Daphine Nkunda Oct. 25, 2021

Specific sections of the Ugandan Succession Law were amended. To assess and understand the renewed Succession Bill 2021 pertaining to women’s rights as well as to inform the public of these proposed changes and further advocate for more improvements, BarefootLaw in conjunction with ThinVoid, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) supported by the Digital Human Rights Lab (DHRL) hosted a webinar session.

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Our distinguished panellists sharing on Succession law pertaining to women's rights

The History of Succession Law in Uganda

The succession law was initially enacted in 1906 and later amended in 1972 under the succession amendment decree which was outdated and did not speak to the contemporary of our country. Since then, progressive steps have been taken towards elimination of various human rights violations such as discrimination and non-equality based on gender, race or religion, most of which are still reflected in the succession act as is now.

Key to note, is that there are three legal categories through which Ugandans acquire land. They buy the land, are gifted the land or most commonly inherit it from a deceased relative. It is common knowledge that women are continuously sidelined when it comes to their rights in administering property of a deceased relative or spouse, more so in the rural parts of Uganda. This discussion shed light on the ways a number of regressive provisions were consolidated with the intention of ensuring equality between spouses and other family members especially during the property distribution process in the Succession Act passed on April 30th, 2021.

The speakers of the day were Rebecca Atayo, a Legal Officer at Landnet Uganda, Sandra Aceng, Gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst at Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) and BarefootLaw’s Director of Development, Rhoda Namboze all who provided immense insights on the issue of succession within Uganda’s current context.

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Rhoda Namboze, BFL's Director of Development takes our participants through key terms in succession

Key Terms in Succession

We kicked off the session with an introduction to key terms in succession. Some phrases that commonly pop up are;

Testate and intestate: Testate is where a person dies having left a will while intestate is where a person dies without having left a will.

An administrator and an executor: An administrator is a person chosen or legally appointed by a court of law to manage property and oversee the distribution of a deceased person’s estate while an executor is a person named under a will to enforce the wishes of a deceased person.

Letters of probate and letters of administration: Letters of probate is a court order empowering an appointed person (or group of people) to enforce the wishes of a deceased person in a will while letters of administration is a court order empowering an appointed person (or group of people) to take on the management and distribution of property of a deceased person.

What the new Succession Amendment Bill provides for

One of the provisions repealed (cancelled and/or will no longer be in force) was Section 3 regarding interests and powers not acquired nor lost by marriage. What this meant was no decisions on assets such as family land could be made without spousal consent. Most frequently women are relegated when it comes to exercising their rights like making additions/ improvements in administering property and other similar forms of inheritance.

The letters of administration and letters of probate are now valid for 3 years and not the 2 years as was is formerly. It provides administrators and executors more time to operationalize these letters and resolve issues to the benefit of the intended beneficiaries.

Section 2 outlaws the term ‘illegitimate child’ to replace it with ‘a child produced outside wed lock’, reasoning that the term illegitimate is both discriminatory and derogatory in nature. Plainly put, illegitimate children are those born outside the socially accepted confines of marriage based on religious and cultural norms in Uganda. The perception subsequently becomes that such children do not possess the same rights to wealth distribution as those within the main family unit. The former provision indicates an extreme inequality in a largely contemporary society we currently live in.

Section 27 that deals with the distribution of property after the death of an intestate. The previous provision only provided for dividing of property after the death of a male intestate which implied women could not solely own property worthy enough to be shared. This posed a challenge to court on the procedures to follow when presented with a female intestate’s physical assets. As it stands now, a spouse of the deceased receives 15%, lineal descendants (children born in and out of wedlock) receive 75%, the customary heir receive 1% and the dependent relatives getting the rest.

Currently the bill is not officially operationalized, after being passed by parliament, the next step is to officially share with the President, however on 22 July, 2021, this particular Act was sent back for some reconsiderations to two clauses. Clause 14 on distribution of an estate in the event that the re couple has no surviving child or customary heir and 18 that deals with distribution after if there was a separation.

It’s promising to see the steps our technocrats continue to make in creating and proposing more inclusive legislation. If you’d like to see how far we’ve come, check out LandNet Uganda’s Issues paper on the Succession Act Cap 162 here.

This insightful conversation can be found on the BarefootLaw Youtube Channel here.