Do our maternal relations have any right of claim to our sister’s?

BY: Mirror Lawyer

Dear Mirror Lawyer, Our paternal sister passed away a few years ago without a spouse, child or Will.

After her death, her maternal siblings, begotten by a different man claimed the right to her estate, seized and rented the only house left by her to prospective tenants. My question is, what if the paternal side does not want to litigate with the maternal side, is there any civilised way to resolve this matter and claim the estate from the maternal side?

V. K. Gordor, Ho

Dear V. K. Gordor, Generally, distribution of the property of a person who dies intestate that is without making a Will is governed by the Intestate Succession Act, PNDCL 111.

This law applies irrespective of whether the deceased hails from a patrilineal or matrilineal community. However, inheritance to property in patrilineal communities is different from that of matrilineal communities.

The law is that if the deceased person hails from a patrilineal community and dies leaving only one house, that house is for the surviving spouse and children absolutely.

Added to the house are several items the law calls household chattels that is jewellery, clothes, furniture and furnishings, refrigerator, television, radiogram, other electrical and electronic appliances, kitchen and laundry equipment, simple agricultural equipment, hunting equipment, books, motor vehicles other than vehicles used wholly for commercial purposes and household livestock.

The law further provides that in patrilineal communities where the deceased dies without a child, spouse or parents, it is the brothers and sisters of the deceased traced through the same male line with the deceased who inherit.

In the case of Amponsah v Budu [1989-90] 2 GLR 291, Amua-Sekyi JSC at page 293 stated that:
“In a patrilineal family, a person’s immediate family consists of his father, his brothers and sisters being children of his
father, and the children of his brothers; his wider family consists of his immediate family and the immediate families
of all those who trace their ancestry through males from the common male ancestor”.

Aikins JSC in the same case at page 298 explained those entitled to benefit in the following words:
“In the patrilineal community those who belong to a man’s family are his children (male and female), his paternal brothers and sisters, children of his paternal brothers, his paternal grandfather and the descendants of the paternal uncles in the direct male line”.

From the scenario provided, the half siblings of your sister begotten by another man can only trace their succession to her through the female line, having the same mother as your sister but by a different father. Since your sister is from the patrilineal community, the law does not recognise succession through the female line.

Succession to her properties can only be through the male line. The appropriation of the properties of your sister by the maternal siblings is, therefore, illegal and not supported by law.

You have indicated that you do not wish to take the siblings of your sister to court. It is true that litigation has the tendency of destroying relationships. So a healthier method of resolving conflict in family or closely knit relationships is to find a mediator.

This can be a respectable person in your community who the siblings of your deceased sister would respect and be ready to meet.

The mediator can meet the parties and mediate a peaceful out of court settlement. Such a person could be your head of family, school head teacher, Reverend Minister and chief or queen mother of the community.

I am sure any of the persons listed above could resolve this matter without recourse to litigation.

However, in the unlikely event of the mediation failing, you have no option but to trigger the right you have under the Constitution to ensure that the laws of the country are respected. Litigation, then, would be inevitable.