The Court of Appeal has ruled that beneficiaries of a deceased person’s estate have the autonomy to sell their interests in land without seeking consent from administrators holding letters of administration. The unanimous decision, authored by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, emphasizes that estate administrators are mere custodians and not owners, making it unnecessary for other beneficiaries to obtain their consent when disposing of their shares.
This groundbreaking judgment stems from an appeal filed by Dr. Diana Kanzira against Herbert Natukunda Rwanchwende and Robert Tukamuhabwa Rwanchwende. Natukunda, the sole administrator of their father’s estate, disputed a land transaction between Kanzira and his brother Tukamuhabwa, asserting that the sale occurred without his consent as the registered owner and administrator of the estate. The High Court initially ruled in favor of Natukunda, ordering Kanzira to vacate the land, prompting her appeal.
The Court’s decision, outlined by Justice Bamugemereire along with Justice Muzamiru Kibeedi and Christopher Gahshirabake, clarifies that administrators, despite having powers under Section 180 of the Succession Act, are not sole owners but hold the land in trust. This legal interpretation prevents administrators from overstepping their mandate and taking advantage of beneficiaries.
Justice Bamugemereire expressed concern about administrators overreaching their authority, highlighting that even though the estate wasn’t distributed, each beneficiary was clear about their portion of the land. She stressed that family decisions to apportion and allot portions of the estate should not be used as a pretext for administrators to act against the law.
The case originated from Natukunda’s objection to the land transaction, alleging that Tukamuhabwa sold part of the estate without consent, citing mental incapacity. However, the Court found that the administrator’s high-handed methods bordered on illegality, emphasizing that administrators should always act on behalf of beneficiaries.
Justice Kibeedi, in his concurring decision, affirmed that beneficiaries have the legal capacity to dispose of their beneficial interest without prior consent from the administrator. He noted that, in this case, the family had mutually defined and allocated portions of the land to each member, allowing for valid transactions without the administrator’s interference.