Gender and Land Rights Database


Inheritance legal mechanisms

  • The Administration of Estates Act of 1907:

    - Removed inheritance laws unfavourable to widows in civil and registered customary marriages, but only for deaths that occurred after 1 November 1997.

    - Provides that property of an estate is to be divided by the surviving spouse and the children, regardless of sex. A widow, whose husband died without leaving a will, retains rights to land on the death of her husband.

    - In practice, however, women still occupy a subordinate position in the communal areas and, in general, only have access to land through their husbands. (13)

    - In 1998, the amendment to the law ended distinctions between daughters’ and sons’ entitlements (22). 
  • The Married Persons Property Act of 1929:

    - Because the default marital property regime is separation of property, according to Section 2[1] of the Act, unless both spouses have submitted a joint registration agreement, the land permit does not automatically transfer to the widow upon the death of the husband. Moreover, deeds registry processes are usually so slow that in practice widows cannot enjoy inheritance rights (23).
  • The Deceased Persons Family Maintenance Act of 1978:

    - Enables a surviving spouse and children to retain the matrimonial home and household goods and effects and to claim maintenance for themselves from the deceased’s estate (7). However, the widow gets only the right to use, rather than actually own, the property of her dead husband (23).
  • The Deceased Estates Succession Act of 1873, amended in 1997:

    - Concerns the administration and other aspects of estates subject to intestate succession. The Act deals with aspects of succession such as entitlements of heirs, agreements on division of property and sale.

    - The surviving spouse of every person who, on or after 1 April 1977, dies intestate is declared to be an intestate heir of the deceased spouse. If there are descendants of the deceased or a parent, brother or sister who is entitled so to succeed, the surviving spouse receives from the free residue of the joint estate, the household goods and effects in such estate and succeeds in respect of the remaining free residue of the deceased spouse’s share of the joint estate to the extent of a child’s share, or to the extent of a half share (21).
  • The Deceased Persons’ Family Maintenance Act of 1978:

    - Allows children of a customary marriage to claim maintenance from the deceased’s estate, but women are often unaware of their entitlements under this law and benefits depend on the size of the estate (26)
  • The Wills Act of 1987, last amended in 2001:
    - Concerns the making, revocation and effect of wills. Any person who has capacity pursuant to this Act to make a will:
    a) makes provision for the transfer, disposal or disposition of the whole or any part of his or her estate;
    b) makes provision for the custody or guardianship after his or her death of any of his or her minor children; and
    c) makes any other lawful provision, disposition or direction, whether in respect of his or her own or any other property or in respect of any other matter (24).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography