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Does wife have rights over husband’s property after death?

By Bamidele Kolawole

The rights of the wife over her husband’s property can also be determined by the type of marriage they have. For example, in customary marriage, wives may have different property rights compared to statutory marriage.

Ifeoluwa Ayodapo-Ajayi Esq

Parties to a legal marriage have equal and undivided rights to own, control, use, and dispose off any joint property, regardless of the weight of contribution made by each party. They can jointly exercise rights in respect of the property.

Generally, when a man dies, his wife is entitled to inherit his property in Nigeria.

A widow under statutory law is entitled to a share of her late husband’s property under the Administration of Estate Laws of various states in Nigeria.

If her husband left a will, the will determines the share of the estate she is entitled to. If a husband dies without a will, the Administration of Estate Law of the state will apply.

Both the Administration of Estate Law and Common Law prescribe that on the death of the husband, the wife will come first in the order of people to benefit from the deceased husband’s estate.

 Article 21 of the Protocol to the Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa provides that a widow or widower shall have the right to inherit each other’s property in the event of death, regardless of the type of marriage, and to continue living in the matrimonial home.

However, any property acquired by a woman both before entering into a marriage and during the marriage independently remains her separate property.

She is free to manage or dispose off the property as she deems fit without undue interference from her husband. This right is guaranteed under the three types of marriages in Nigeria.

The Married Women’s Property Act (a federal law) provides in section (1) that a married woman shall be capable of acquiring, holding, and disposing of any real or personal property as her separate property, in the same manner as if she were an unmarried woman, without the intervention of any trustee.

The Quran recognizes women’s right to acquire and utilize property through purchase or inheritance from their husbands.

Women have control over assets they purchased independently and received as gifts.Aderounmu v. Aderounmu (2003) 2 NWLR, Part 803, Page 1: The issue before the court was whether a married woman was capable of acquiring, holding, and disposing off her property.

The court granted an order asking the husband to vacate property belonging to the wife as the sole owner and an order directing the husband to hand over to the wife the Land Rover Jeep being property belonging to the wife.

Section 12 of the Married Women’s Property Act provides that a wife can bring civil or criminal proceedings against any person, including her husband, for the protection and security of her own separate property provided that the act was committed, and criminal proceedings are instituted against her spouse when they are no longer living together.

The legal position of the property rights of women has been clarified by the introduction of statutory marriage in Nigeria, through the enactment of the Marriage Act and the Married Women’s Property Act, which granted married women the right to own their own separate property as if they were unmarried.

David Ebriku Esq.

Many women are not clear about their rights in the property of their husbands. The rights of a wife in her husband’s property after his death depend upon:

The kind of joint ownership of husband and wife, nature of property of the husband, self-acquired or ancestral.

Joint ownership:

In case of property jointly acquired by both husband and wife during marriage, the nature of ownership determines the rights of a wife in the property after the death of the husband. The joint ownership can be:

Tenancy in common:

There is no right of survivorship. When one co-owner dies, his share goes to the legal heirs.

Joint Tenancy:

When one co-owner dies, his share passes on to the surviving co-owners.

Tenancy by entirety:

Tenancy by entirety is a special kind of joint tenancy which takes place only between husband and wife. In this kind of ownership, both the spouses cannot pass their share in the property to a third person without the consent of others. This tenancy can be terminated either by mutual agreement, legal separation or by the death of one of the spouse.

Presumption of ownership:

Unless specifically stated in the document of property, the law presumes tenancy is common between the co-owners. However, in case of a married couple, the presumption is for the tenancy by entirety unless otherwise specified in the deed.

It is always advisable to disclose the nature of the ownership in the title document to avoid legal hassles later.

Ayonitemi Fasakin Esq

The rights of the wife over her husband’s property can also be determined by the type of marriage they have. For example, in customary marriages, wives may have different property rights compared to statutory marriages.

Under customary law, wives may have rights to certain marital property or assets acquired during the marriage. In statutory marriages, the Matrimonial Causes Act and other relevant laws govern the distribution of property in the event of divorce or death.

The court may consider factors such as contributions to the acquisition of property, the welfare and needs of the family, and the overall circumstances of the case when determining the division of assets between spouses.

It is important for couples to be aware of their legal rights and obligations regarding property ownership and distribution in marriage to avoid conflicts and ensure a fair resolution in case of separation or divorce.

Consulting with a legal professional knowledgeable about Nigerian family law can provide clarity on the specific rights of a wife over her husband’s property in the country.

Banjo Ayenakin Esq

Whether a wife has any rights over her husband’s property depends on the type of marriage and the type of right. A wife has the right to live in her husband’s property.

The wife of a statutory marriage has joint interest in the property of her husband provided the property was acquired during the pendency of the marriage irrespective of whether it has the names of the two parties or not.

Upon the death of the husband of a statutory marriage, the wife is the proper person to administer the estate of the deceased husband.

The wife of a customary marriage has no right of joint property with her husband and upon the death of her husband, she cannot inherit the property of her deceased husband.

In Akinnubi v Akinnubi, the court held that the wife of a customary marriage is a property to be inherited.

Jerry Adeyogbe Esq

Generally, husband and wife are presumed to be individually empowered pursuant to Section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) to own and acquire property any where in Nigeria.

 However, this does preclude them from jointly acquiring properties in Nigeria.

The question of whether a spouse (that is a wife in this instant) has a right over her husband’s property is a question of whether it is a joint property or separately owned property.

In the case of joint property during the subsistence of a marriage, it is settled in law that a husband cannot dispose of such property without the consent of his wife.

This has been stated explicitly in the case of KOBUWA & Anor v LAMUDU & Anor (1998) LPELR-6364 (CA), where it was held “where the property is jointly owned by more than one person, each of the joint owners does not own any part of the property which he can singly dispose of until the property is partitioned”.

 However, if the said property is separately acquired by the husband even during the subsistence of the marriage, the wife has no right over such property except in special circumstances. Such circumstances could be said to be Survivorship doctrine where the death of the Husband occurs.

In the case of Survivorship, where the husband dies, the rights over the property devolves on the wife or children who may inherit or continue to exercise rights over the property either Customarily or by obtaining Letters of Administration, where the man intestate.

If however, the man dies testate, then, the persons named in will, (including the wife, if she is mentioned in will) acquires such property.

Similarly, when a husband dies during the pendency of a civil suit, his wife may be substituted with her husband.

Obada Toyosi Charles Esq

A wife’s rights over her husband’s property in Nigeria depend on a few factors: Type of Marriage: Nigeria recognizes three main marriage types: statutory, Islamic, and traditional (customary).

Each has different property ownership rules. Property Acquisition: When the property was acquired also matters. Assets acquired during the marriage are generally considered “family property” where the wife may have rights.

Here’s a breakdown of a wife’s rights based on these factors: General Laws :Marriage Act & Matrimonial Causes Act: These Federal Laws grant wives some rights. The Marriage Act allows wives equal rights to “family assets” acquired during marriage.

In divorce cases, the Matrimonial Causes Act empowers courts to grant wives a share of family property on grounds of equity.

Recent Court Rulings: A 2023 Lagos High Court case established a concept of “constructive trust,” meaning a husband may hold property in trust for the family, granting the wife some rights.

Customary Law and Islamic Law: Customary Law: Practices vary by region. In some areas, wives have limited rights to property acquired solely by the husband.

Islamic Law: Inheritance and property rights follow Islamic principles. A wife has rights to her own property and a share of her deceased husband’s estate if he doesn’t leave a will.

Key Takeaways: Wives increasingly have rights to property acquired during marriage under statutory law and recent court rulings. Customary and Islamic law may have different rules depending on the specific region and interpretation.

For a more specific answer: Consult a lawyer specializing in Nigerian family law. They can advise you based on your specific situation, marriage type, and location.

Ilemobayo Akinbote Esq

In order to appreciate this question, one needs to probe the kind of marriage that subsists between the couple.

Ordinarily, a wife should have numerous rights as far as her husband’s property but there are limitations in a customary marriage.

If the marriage contracted is a customary marriage, the wife has certain limitations as to the property of her husband.

In some cultures especially in Africa, the moment a husband acquires property, that property devolves on his surviving siblings upon the death of the husband.

In fact, that wife is automatically given to the immediate younger brother of the man upon his death. Invariably, the wife constitutes part of the estate of the deceased person capable of being shared alongside the estate left behind.

The property of a man belongs to the wife in a statutory marriage. In the eyes of the law, one either of the husband or wife acquires property, that property belongs to each other without discrimination between the two of them.

Similarly, if the husband dies, the property belongs to the wife and the children in a statutory marriage. This is where there are conflicts between the statutes and the customary laws.

In some cultures like the eastern part of the country, when a man dies, his immediate younger brother takes over his estate and manages same in trust for the benefit of the children and the wife.

Even if the wife has the capacity to manage the property, she will not be allowed to so do because of cultural barriers.

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