Bid to transform inheritance rights

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By Lerema Pheea

The National Assembly of Lesotho has been urged to pass a bill proposing amendments that will see Basotho given a choice to choose how their estates will be administered in order to reduce the backlog of many cases where women, children, and families contest estates of deceased husbands, parents or relatives.

The intention of the Administration of Estates Proclamation (amendment) of 2022 tabled before the august house by Minister of Law, human rights and justice Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane is to amend the Administration of Estates Proclamation, 1935.

Rakuoane, in a presentation to the portfolio committee on law and public safety cluster, said the amendments will cover Section 3, Section 6(2), Section 13(1), and also inserts a new subsection (4) and further amends Section 110 and inserts a new Schedule Four (4).

The amendment bill provides that Section 3(b) of the 1935 Proclamation denies Basotho of their inherent right to the law of their choice to administer their estates.

“It also causes a conflict on the choice of law applicable to the administration of late estates of Basotho.

“The Section provides for a mode of test that is used to scrutinize the will of the deceased, with the expectation that the deceased was fully living a civil life,” said Rakuaone.

He said that Section 3(b) as interpreted by the Courts of Law causes a conflict on the choice of law that best described the deceased and therefore this usually results in the Courts setting aside the wills of Basotho on the grounds that Basotho have not fully abandoned their customs and adopted modern lifestyle.

He further explained that the Bill proposes for a new Section 3 which makes a provision that the amended Act will apply to all estates whether customary or civil and to all wills that have been written before the coming into effect of this Amendment Act.

Rakuone added that the Bill provides for the “engagement of the Master of the High Court in supervising estates either under civil or customary law, all properties and estates of every deceased person, minor, lunatic, and all other types of persons as described in a new section substituting Section 6(2) of the Principal Law”.

“The Bill provides for an adjustment of a reporting period of the late estate and introduces a new way of reporting of the late estates”.

“The Principal Law provides for reporting of a late estate within sixteen (16) days and failure to do so is considered a criminal offense,” said Rakuoane.

He further added that the ministry advised itself that sixteen days is a very short period of time to make a reporting as well as to prepare to cover legal expenses caused by criminal charges for the delayed reporting as is stipulated in the Principal Act.

Rakuoane said Basotho can afford to pay lawyers for their court cases, the accumulation of cases themselves cause backlog; a situation which the Courts of Law have been working to overcome.

He proposed that there should be a penalty if reporting of a late estate is made later than thirty (30) days. The charges will differ and this will be on the basis of the size of the estate.

He also said that the fees collected will therefore be another means for the Master of the High Court to generate revenue.