'Who gets the estate when my polygamous husband dies without a will?' This is what the experts say


A Move! reader wrote in to share her concerns regarding inheritance in a polygamous marriage, here Lawyer Nthabiseng Monareng provides advice. 


“My mother was a third wife in a polygamous marriage of six wives. My father recently passed away and he did not leave a will. He had a lot of taxis and businesses. Who must inherit my father’s assets?”


Lawyer Nthabiseng Monareng advises

“Polygamy is legally recognized and all wives in a customary marriage have an equal share in the deceased husband’s estate. Once the husband is buried, an estate file must be opened at the master of the high court.

An executor will be appointed who will then start with administering the deceased’s estate and make sure debts are paid. Thereafter, the executor will allocate each wife an equal share of the estate. The children will also begiven their share. “


There are two school of thoughts to the debate about polygamy as some are against the practice while others are for it. Some couples who are or have been in polygamous relationships shared their experiences.

Read more: Woman dumped by her husband for his high-school sweetheart – and the way he did it will shock you!

The 58-year-old Lillian Makhubalo* and her husband, Thamsanqa*, 65, married when Lillian was 18. She’d dropped out of school to help her sick grandmother, Nomqondiso, when Thamsanqa asked her for her hand in marriage. He was a handsome 25-year-old who worked as a miner, and when he asked her gogo if he could marry Lillian, Nomqondiso agreed.

The duo then had twins. But when Thamsanqa brought up the idea of a second wife, she was heartbroken and didn’t speak to him for days. After calming down Lillian communicated her feelings and concerns to Thamsanqa, and he explained his point of view. But she ended up agreeing to his proposal.

“Don’t be too quick to bash him. Understand that he could’ve cheated, but rather chose something that is common in African culture,” Lillian advises other women in her position.

The family is living happily with the second wife and their kids.

Read more: "He married me but won't forgive me for cheating – what do I do?"

Evelyn*, 32, told the magazine of a different experience with this practice. She says her mother got a raw deal. After 28 years of marriage he told her mother Eva* that he wanted to add two more wives – twins.

Her mother wasn’t on board with the idea. But her father went on with his plans despite his wife approval. Evelyn says his actions went against the traditional practice of asking for her permission and mediating until a solution is found, but legally he was within his rights.

“The two new wives bullied my mother and called her names. They were much younger than my mother, just eight years older than me.

I defended my mother and my dad just watched everything unfold.” After three years of this, Eva decided to file for divorce.

Read more: Former Joyous Celebration singer Puleng March on helping wives in their marriages


All polygamous marriages entered into in accordance with the provisions of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act are legal, The Constitutional Court ruled in November 2019.

The Customary Marriages Act of 1998 recognises polygamy, a husband who has registered his marriage under the Act is permitted to register additional marriages under the Act provided he sticks to the regulations under the Act regarding his property. That is, at his own cost, the husband has to get an order from a competent court that will regulate his future matrimonial property system.

The Act states that customary marriages entered after the commencement of this Act must be registered within a period of three months after the conclusion of the marriage and those entered before the Act to be registered within 12 months of the commencement of the Act.

*Not their real names

Read more: 

Jacob Zuma’s partner on raising her son in a polygamous relationship: ‘I have made peace that I’ll attend school activities alone’

How to raise your son to be an honourable man

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