The Upper House of Parliament, yesterday, passed the law regarding matrimonial regimes, family donations and successions, following major amendments of the 1999 legislation.
The long awaited law, which will now be sent to the President for assent, is expected to mitigate persistent family disputes and deprivation of females’ rights to inheritance and successions once it is enacted into law.
In a state where citizens are not used to legitimate wills and legacies, the amendments of the law were necessary to address persistent family wrangles over property.
Presenting the changes before the plenary, Senator Therese Kagoyire, who is the chairperson of the senatorial committee in charge of social affairs, highlighted areas of amendment, including rights to succession for widows and accepted legatees.
The old law did not equally provide succession modalities between spouses and the list of heirs entitled to a separation of property regime, she said.
Kagoyire also stressed that amendments were necessary in the context of the current judicial systems and the restructured local governance systems.
The same commission that made moderate adjustments to the Bill after it was scrutinised by the Lower Chamber of the Parliament introduced a new clause determining who should inherit property in case there is no successor.
According to the introduced article 81 of the same law, when the property owner leaves no heir or legatee, or if the purported heirs or legatees renounce all gifts and legacies, the property is transferred to the State.
“The State shall pay the obligations of the deceased only up to the value of the property received,” reads the law in part.
The same draft legislation will see children inheriting legally 4/5 of the family estate, leaving 1/5 to be used as donation on consensus agreement between partners.
Reacting to the Bill, officials from the Rwanda Law Reform Commission previously said the old law was lacking.
Rambert Dushimimana a legislative drafting specialist at the Law Reform Commission, told the press that historically, women were deprived on wills, partitions (Iminani), and successions, while boys would take the lion’s share of gifts from their parents.
“It was in our interests to make sure girls are not only entitled to an equal share of the family estate, but also to be legitimate heirs of the assets,” said Dushimimana.
The legislation additionally specifies how gifts and donations are distributed among family members and friends.
While in the past a parent would distribute his property at his will and convenience, the draft law will compel heads of families to distribute assets at the ratio of 20 per cent with all parties (husband and wife) consensus.
Article 27 of the Bill states that in case of community property regime, any donation of a family property by one of the spouses needs and requires consent of the other partner.
However, when the donor has a spouse but has no children, the transferable quota shall not exceed 1/2 of his/her patrimony, and the remaining 1/2 shall be reserved for the spouse, to be shared with other heirs in accordance with the rules on devolution of succession.
Of late, there have been cases of family feuds which sought intervention of courts to mend conflicts over property.
The enactment of the law will partly respond to early concerns from the Gender Monitoring Office that sought to commission a feasibility study to look at modalities of abolishing Umunani and propose equitable legacy shares between boys and girls.