When death occurs, you are forced to put emotions aside and instead think about your next step. This is even worse when the deceased is the family’s bread winner, usually leaving the next responsible person with a lot to handle.
For a woman, for instance, when a husband dies. In this case, a house, a few assets and whatever land left behind provide a vital source of shelter, food, income and livelihood after the death of the husband or father in the home.
Unfortunately, a 2014 study by the International Justice Mission in Uganda titled Property Grabbing from Ugandan Widows and the Justice System, shows that nearly one in three women have been victims of property grabbing after the death of their husbands.
Widows and orphans, who are the common victims, are driven from their rightful property or lose access to it through physical force, forgery, fraud, threats, intimidation, property destruction or collective pressures by relatives, community members and opportunists plunder the property that belonged to the deceased or jointly to the couple.
On a brighter side, there are legal procedures that could reduce the risk of suffering such incidences. First, you need to know what needs to be done in what order from the moment your loved one passes on.
1. Immediately after the death
Losing a spouse brings a flood of emotions that can make tasks such as managing financial obligations seem impossible.
I. First thing you need to do is to register the death with the hospital administrator where the person died from, Sub county chief or Town clerk.
For immediate use, the declarant will be issued with a short death notification as proof of registration as the death certificate is processed. It takes a week for citizens and two weeks for non-citizens to process the death certificate.
II. Important also is to find out if the deceased left any insurance policies and what components they had, preferably from their employer if they were employed or their insurance company if you have any knowledge of it.
“This is urgent because some insurance policies have components that cover for expenses such as costs of the burial,” explains Kaddunabbi Lubega, the chief executive officer Insurance Regulatory Authority. He also acknowledges that emotions may make it difficult to deal with such details so soon and advises that a trusted friend or relative can look into these.
Later, check for any life, medical or travel policies that your spouse may have been entitled to or other benefits such as pension.
III. Contact National Social Security Fund physically to see if you are eligible to receive benefits regarding spousal and survivor benefits.
IV. It is important to find out if there was a Will as soon as possible to see if the deceased made any specific requests regarding his burial arrangements. The other parts of the Will can be dealt with later.
2. After the burial, securing the death certificate
After burial, it is important to secure the death certificate from National Identification and Registration Authority situated at Post Office building, Kampala.
Leah Nduhukire at National Identification and Registration Authority explains that the death certificate is legal proof that someone died.
“It necessary when you have to lay any claim on the deceased’s estates, life insurance, pension, medical benefits and for future marriages to prove that your spouse passed on.”
Before you can be given the death certificate, you need to present the previously acquired short death notification, a copy of your national Identity card and that of the deceased, there is a fee of Shs5,000 for citizens and $40 (about Shs140,000) for foreigners.
For the deaths that occur in hospitals, get a notification from the hospital that spells out the cause of the death. For cases such as suicides and accidents, you need a report from the area police or sub-county chief indicating the cause of the death.
3. Laying claim to property
If there is a will, it must be followed in the distribution of property.
According to Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, the Executive Director Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET), “The Will should be sealed and should be more than two witnesses at the opening to avoid forgery.
“If there is more than one Will, the latest is to be considered but it should mention the existence of other Wills.”
• The Will should also be fair to all beneficiaries. It can be challenged if an important person such as a child or legal wife was left out.
For instance, if property that was jointly owned by the couple was given to a relative in the Will, the surviving spouse can claim it, or if a child had angered the parent and was not mentioned in the Will, it can be contested. Here, the Will can be challenged and redistribution will take place following the guidelines of the law.
• A person can only give out what belonged to them in their Will and in case of jointly owned assets, the surviving spouse claims full ownership.
Where the deceased left no Will, the office of the administrator general becomes the trustee and manages the estate on behalf of the deceased. This can also be the Chief Administrative Officer.
Mukasa says, “However, if someone wants to manage the deceased’s property, they must seek permission from the Administrator General but must undergo scrutiny to prove he or she is the right person to manage the property. He must have letters from the Local Council, the death certificate and Will be approved by the family.”
Only a relative can be administrator and if more than one person is interested, the family should sit and choose a person they trust. Whoever becomes administrator per the Will or as appointed is required to give a report to chief magistrate or high court detailing how the property was distributed. The law also allows for those not contented with the Will, redistribution or estate administration to seek redress.
Otherwise, the Constitution provides for distribution guidelines where there is no Will; the heir receives one per cent, the wife 15 per cent, the dependent relatives (wife, husband, children who wholly or substantially depended on the deceased) nine per cent, and the 75 per cent for the lineal descendants (children who are direct descendants to the deceased).
However, this was challenged in 2011 by the Advocacy for Women in Uganda who proposed that the surviving spouse receive 20 per cent, dependent relatives nine per cent while the lineal descendants receive 71 per cent since the heir usually falls in one of the above categories.
If the deceased left no child, the surviving spouse and dependent receives 50 per cent each. However, this amendment is still tabled for scrutiny.
Important documents to secure
There are documents that come in handy after the death of say a spouse, some to help with claims and others for continued support secured by the deceased before they died. Find these and keep them even before you need them. Mukasa says these include:
• Will. To show how the deceased wished his property to be managed.
• Insurance policy records. If you find he had one say from his place of work.
• Marriage certificate. To show that you were legally married and are entitled to the property.
• Death certificate. To prove death of the person.
• Bank statements. If the deceased had money in the bank.
• Retirement plan statements. So you do not miss out on the pension benefits if any.
• Loan statements. If the deceased left a loan which may have been paid half way so you do not repay.
• Health insurance. To help you know if you and the children will still be covered for hospital bills.
• Business ownership. So that you do not lose out on any profitable business the deceased may have left behind.
• Army or military service records. If your spouse was in the military, contact the Veteran’s Administration located at the Ministry of Defense and Veterans Affairs office at Chwa II Road, Mbuya, to learn what benefits you might be entitled to. Apply in writing to obtain the benefits.
How breadwinners can protect their families
According to Steven Senkeezi, a lawyer with Senkeezi - Ssali Advocates & Legal Consultants, you can empower your family to secure what is rightfully theirs after you are gone and protect them from property grabbers, fighting for inheritance, and relatives scavenging over your property only if you protected them while you were still alive.
• Get into a legally recognisable marriage so that the surviving partner can have priority over the property.
There are no legal rights and protection that come about through cohabitation unless if you were mentioned in the will. Even if you have children or bought property together, you are still not married and unless you have proof that the property is jointly owned, you might have no rights to them.
• If you are cohabiting, have documentation to prove jointly owned/purchased property.
• Let your family know about any business dealings you have.
• Leave a Will and your family will have proof to demand for what belongs to them after your demise. You can also register them as interest owners while you purchase property or get them involved in any business ventures.
• Appoint a lawyer for your family, someone you can trust to help the family with legal issues. Over time, he/she becomes familiar with your family issues and will be able to effectively advice on running your family estate.
For cases where you do not have a lot of property or money to hire a lawyer, you can leave your Will with a trusted religious leader.
Making the Will
Mukasa says, “Making a Will does not mean that someone is going to die there and then.”
Anyone above 21 years old with a sound mind can make a will with the guidance of a lawyer. It should be written in simple and clear language and can be made by the deaf, damp, blind and insane (if it is made at a time when they are sane) and kept with a family lawyer, religious leader, bank or a close friend.
The Will spells out your property such as liabilities and assets such as land, cars, houses, shares in a company, money on your bank account, who your beneficiaries or dependents are and how you want them to benefit from the property. Update your Will as your wealth status changes.
Any member of the armed forces engaged in the warfare can make a Will by writing or word of mouth called a Privileged Will, which may be signed by his witnesses at the battlefield.