Ghanaian Inheritance Laws affect everyone who owns property or assets in Ghana.
If someone dies without a Will then the estate (property and assets) will be administered according to the laws of intestacy in Ghana.
Who is included and excluded from inheriting particular assets depends on legal property rights, as well as religion and cultural norms concerning social roles and relationships.
Ghana is a common law jurisdiction, and in recent years, judicial decisions have set precedents in what can constitute the establishment of property and inheritance rights, such as criteria for the recognition of customary marriages.
The difficulty of choice of law in Ghana often arises from the fact that the intestate law has been previously guided by various religions and customary succession rights. Therefore, when a legal dispute arises, it is often difficult to establish which law to apply.
The law of succession comes with inherent problems. Not only are there different forms of succession laws in Ghana, but these laws must coexist with marriage laws and the ‘received English law’.
What inheritance laws apply in Ghana?
The principal laws relating to inheritance in Ghana are the following:
- Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, 1992
- Administration of Estates Act, 1961 (Act 63)
- The Wills Act, 1971 (Act 360)
- Intestate Succession Act, 1985 (PNDC Law 111)
- Intestate Succession Amendment law, 1991 (PNDC Law 264)
- Conveyancing Act, 1973 (NRCD 175)
- The Marriages Act, 1884 – 1985 (Cap 127)
Making a Will
You are permitted to make a Will if you are at least 18 years old. You do not need a lawyer present when making a Will, however, it is highly recommended to have one present.
Without the presence of a valid Will, the Intestate Succession Law, 1985 promotes spousal inheritance of property and assets.
It recognises the spouse(s) of the deceased, their biological or adopted children, surviving parents and the customary family, prioritising spouses, and children.
The main opportunity provided by the Intestate Succession Law 1985, is the protection of the surviving spouse’s property rights in intestate succession. It applies to self-acquired property after 1985 which has been bought, inherited or would have been inherited.
It also allows a spouse, child, parent and customary family to apply for ‘Letters of Administration’ to distribute the property of someone who died without a Will.
It also recognises that a surviving spouse and children face insecurity under customary law, and that a wife’s role in a husband’s economic activity requires legal recognition.
The existence of this law in Ghana has helped many of widows and children escape poverty, however, it still has some serious challenges especially for women living in rural areas.
There are still traditional succession plans, depending on ethnic group, that are contrary to the statutory law. Each choice made by the widow has consequences and is dependent on each specific case. Many women face several challenges upon their husband’s death.
There are many challenging factors that may deter women from seeking a remedy in court.
The major limitation of the existing law is that it only pertains to self-acquired property and not to any lineage property, which is the classification of the majority of land in Ghana. This distinction leaves no protection under the law for a spouse’s or children’s claims to the deceased’s (lineage) landholdings.
Another significant challenge with the existing Intestate Succession Act is that it does not specifically address polygamy. In cases where a deceased man has multiple wives, the courts may interpret the succession law as granting the household items and one house to all the deceased’s wives and children as tenants-in-common.
There also remains a significant restriction in the Intestate Succession Act’s definition of a spouse, as it does not include cohabiting partners who are not married according to Ghana’s marriage laws.
Determining which law should be used in property and inheritance rights for spouses depends on the type of marriage. A judge must then try to determine whether the relationship constituted a customary marriage, and evidence is often dependent on witnesses’ testimonies.
The Intestate Succession Act (Section 5) contains further complicated formulas for the division of the estate among various relatives. For instance, where the intestate is survived by a spouse and children:
- 3/16 goes to the surviving spouse
- 9/16 to the surviving children
- 1/8 to the surviving parent and
- 1/8 is according to customary law
However, experience shows that many Ghanaian families do not follow the provisions of the Intestate Law, fearing it would dissipate their property. Most families still follow customary law.
The complex nature of intestate succession presents Ghanaian courts with difficult choices when determining which law to apply.
By drafting a Will, an individual can ensure that a favourable distribution of the estate is achieved other than that established by other laws.
What Am I Entitled To?
The Intestate Succession Act specifies that spouses and children are entitled to the household chattels (i.e. jewellery, clothes, furniture and household appliances, simple agricultural equipment, motor vehicles and household livestock).
If the deceased’s estate includes one house, the spouse and children are entitled to it and will hold it as tenants-in-common. If the deceased left multiple houses, the spouse and children are entitled to only one house.
Amendments in 1991 have made it an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment to eject a spouse or child from the matrimonial home prior to the distribution of an estate, whether there is a Will or not.
If there is disagreement, or if parties are unable to make such a choice, then the High Court, upon application by the administrator of the estate, can determine which of the houses is distributed to the spouse and/or children.
You should seek legal advice if you are concerned about what you may inherit or disagree with the distribution of property.
Intestate Succession Laws – Foreigners
The High Court has jurisdiction to make decisions about property in Ghana owned by foreigners.
The Intestate Succession Act 1985 applies automatically, subject to the rules of Private International Law.
What If There Is No family?
If the deceased has no family, the Administrator-General takes charge of the payment of the deceased´s debts, fees, expenses, and liabilities, and pays the balance to the Accountant-General.
The Accountant-General, in turn, informs the Attorney-General, who publishes the accounts, announces the completion of the administration of the estate, and calls on claimants to present their petitions to court on legal, equitable, or moral grounds.
Claimants have two years to make a claim by petition to the Attorney-General. Any order made by the court concerning the petition is published.
Making a Will in Ghana
It is advisable for both Ghanaians and foreigners who have property governed by Ghanaian jurisdiction to make a Will in Ghana. The advantage is that once Probate is granted, the administration of the estate can commence immediately.
About CQ Legal
CQ Legal & Consulting is a law firm based in Accra, Ghana that serves the needs of a broad range of corporate and private clients.
Our team of lawyers are specialist in Intestate law and Will writing in Ghana, helping many individuals through what is a sensitive and complex process.
We pride ourselves on our excellent service and extensive understanding of the legal systems, cultures, economic and regulatory environment in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa. Total client satisfaction is always our goal and we see ourselves as partners with our clients in achieving their objectives.
Good afternoon Sir please my brother who was an Immigration Officer died last year he built a house in Accra and one on our family land at the village however he had two sons before married the current wife Just last week we met with the wife and her family together with the two sons to share the properties.Initially the wife made it clear that my brother had no personal effects in Accra and later brought some list of items to be that of my brother.My brother didn’t do a Will so how do we share the properties as the wife now want to deny the two boys access to their fathers house in accra
A need a lawyer to help write a will for me
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1-678-665-2190
If my mum is dead and I am the only surviving son, am I entitled to her property?
I need the help of a lawyer
Thanks for a helpful article. Kindly tell me, if a person dies intestate and the wife and children become tenants in common, do they each get 33% of the first house/land or can they work with an outfit such as yours to work out their own percentages? Also do you do Deeds Of Trusts?
never intestate estate belongs to one person. widow who wanted to clam all her late spouse properties without given parent or family anything. if we shall go back to our former inheritance rite.
which law in ghana stated that a widow who has no even registed their marriage can clam all their late husband estate without given the decease parent and family anything? i do not blame them. hmmmm.
My husband mother died then he died how do I get his inheritance from his sister
Please I need a legal advice. Thank you Sir
Any helpful advice will be welcome please. MY deceased dad was offered a land for free by his brother. My dad started building on the land 20 years ago and managed to do foundation to lentil. He was legally married to my mum for over 30 yeara but had other children from previous marriage. Children lived in abroad with my dad and its just myself and my mum living in Ghana. I managed continue the house to point myself and my mum can leave in it.. my dad before his death filed to divorce my mum 8 years ago but was not successful as he couldn’t meet the settlement.t agreement which included my mum getting possession of the uncompleted house plus an additional money. My late father then gave up. I then continued compete the whole house for my mum..
Now I have my siblings from abroad who are trying to claim possession of a house I used my money to build for mum with all paperwork from land to the house in my name. And nothing in the name of my late dad. In otherwords there are ot even legal grounds of possession of the land and house by my late dad..
How do I proceed as late dad did mention this house he didn’t build in his will to be for all his children. Need advise please…
My mother gave birth to two boys with a man who had elderly children. My mum was driven out of the house by the children, when the man was sick. The man has passed away, and now the elderly children has taken over the house. They are denying my brothers the house and threatening my mum of death if she try claiming the house. They have been hiring this house for the past 9 years. Pls my mother is struggling, we need a lawyer.
It’s unclear at what point in time your name got in the papers. Whether your father personally gave it out, your mother forcefully took it to effect the change or you took it without your father’s knowledge. If your father made a claim to the other children in effect that the plot under construction belonged to him, it meant that, it belonged to the entire family but if he did not but freely sent you to effect the change of ownership to your name then you totally own it.
How has this law been able to promote gender equality