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Understanding rights to inherit spouse’s assets published on 12 March 2018

If a person chooses to marry another in Zimbabwe, there are different methods to contract such marriages which have a direct bearing on their rights to inherit from their spouses’ assets.

A person may choose to have a civil law marriage in terms of the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) or a registered customary law marriage in terms of the Customary Marriages Act (Chapter 5:07).

There is a third type of union, which is regarded as a marriage in limited circumstances such as maintenance and inheritance.

This type of union is known as an unregistered customary law union, which is the focus of this discussion.

This union is contracted by way of paying a bride price, which will be accepted as confirmation of a union between two consenting adults. For this to be considered valid, payment of what is known as “rusambo” should have been made to the bride’s family.

Within the lives of the individuals in that union, their assets and liabilities accumulate to form what is known as an estate and for the purpose of inheritance; a deceased estate.

For ease of sharing the property left by the other spouse at death, it is most advisable to draft a will, which will provide a blueprint on how the deceased person intended to appropriate their assets.

There are, however, many people who die intestate, which means that they die without having drafted a will.

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