Distri­bu­tion of de­ceased’s es­tate of­ten causes anx­i­ety

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/local News -

pow­er­less when dis­putes within a fam­ily arise.

The law prefers the de­ceased’s spouse as a cus­to­dian of the es­tate’s prop­erty pend­ing the ap­point­ment of an ex­ecu­tor.

An ex­ecu­tor is a per­son ap­pointed to carry out the obli­ga­tion of the de­ceased. Upon the death of the de­ceased, the Mas­ter of High Court will call upon the sur­viv­ing spouse, if the per­son was mar­ried and five rel­a­tives of the de­ceased to an edict meet­ing where they can choose an ex­ecu­tor. If they fail to do so then the Mas­ter of the High Court may ap­point some­one to be an ex­ecu­tor.

The ex­ecu­tor has to list the prop­erty of the de­ceased in an in­ven­tory, pub­lish the es­tate in the Gov­ern­ment Gazette and news­pa­per cir­cu­lat­ing in the dis­trict where the de­ceased resided at the time of his death to in­form debtors and cred­i­tors so as to en­able him to pay cred­i­tors and col­lect debts for the es­tate. The ex­ecu­tor will then pre­pare an ac­count, which shows what the de­ceased had and what he owed to cred­i­tors and dis­trib­utes the es­tate prop­erty to the ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

If the ben­e­fi­cia­ries are not sat­is­fied with the way the ex­ecu­tor is per­form­ing his du­ties they can lodge a com­plaint with the Mas­ter of High Court who has the au­thor­ity to re­move him. “If the wives were liv­ing in dif­fer­ent houses owned by the de­ceased per­son at the time of his death, then they each get own­er­ship of the house and all house­hold goods in the house in which they lived. If they all lived in one house and if it is im­pos­si­ble to get own­er­ship then they will re­tain the right to use the house,” said Ms Nomsa Ncube, a lawyer.

She said in cases where the de­ceased is sur­vived by one wife and one or more chil­dren, the sur­viv­ing spouse should get own­er­ship of or, if that is im­prac­ti­ca­ble, a usufruct over the house in which the spouse lived at the time of the de­ceased per­son’s death to­gether with all house­hold goods.

The chil­dren should each get an equal share from the re­main­der of the net of the es­tate, said Ms Ncube.

“If the de­ceased per­son is a woman who is sur­vived by a hus­band with more than one wife and she had one or more chil­dren, the hus­band is en­ti­tled to a third of the net es­tate and the re­main­der goes to the chil­dren in equal shares. Where the de­ceased per­son is not sur­vived by a spouse but by a child or chil­dren, then the net es­tate should de­volve upon that child or those chil­dren in equal shares,” she said.

All le­git­i­mate chil­dren of the de­ceased should get an equal share each from the residue of the es­tate af­ter the spouse has been given her en­ti­tle­ments.

Cus­tom­ary law mar­riages, whether reg­is­tered or un­reg­is­tered, are valid for the pur­pose of in­her­i­tance ex­cept if a per­son con­tracts a reg­is­tered or un­reg­is­tered cus­tom­ary law mar­riage when he is al­ready mar­ried to some­one else un­der the Mar­riage Act [Chap­ter 5:11] the cus­tom­ary mar­riage will not be valid.

If a woman mar­ries un­der the Mar­riage Act [Chap­ter 5:11] a man who is al­ready mar­ried un­der cus­tom­ary law to some­one else, then the last mar­riage will be treated as a cus­tom­ary law mar­riage for pur­poses of in­her­i­tance.

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