Lawyer Peter Njagi Law of Succession

Lawyer Peter Njagi explains everything you need to know about the Law of Succession

The death of a loved one often brings a wave of emotional and logistical challenges, including the critical task of distributing the deceased’s wealth. This process is governed by the Law of Succession Act (CAP160) in Kenya, which came into force in 1981 to address the complexities of inheritance and ensure fair distribution of assets. Understanding this law is essential for navigating the succession process and avoiding disputes among family members.

Understanding the Law of Succession Act (CAP160)

The Law of Succession Act (CAP160) was introduced to streamline the inheritance process and mitigate conflicts over the distribution of a deceased person’s estate. This comprehensive legislation covers both intestate (without a will) and testate (with a will) succession, outlining the procedures and requirements for each scenario.

Types of Succession

Intestate Succession

Intestate succession occurs when a person dies without a valid will. In such cases, the law dictates how the deceased’s estate will be distributed among the surviving family members.

Testate Succession

Testate succession, on the other hand, happens when a person dies, leaving a valid will. This will outline the deceased’s wishes regarding the distribution of their estate, and the law ensures these wishes are honored.

Dying Without a Will (Intestate Succession)

When a person dies without a will, intestate succession laws come into play. This process involves several steps, starting with obtaining a letter of recognition from the area chief, which confirms the identity of the deceased and their beneficiaries.

Process of Filing a Succession Case

  1. Letter of Recognition from the Area Chief: The first step is to visit the area chief of the deceased’s last place of residence. The chief issues a letter of recognition, confirming the identity of the deceased and listing the beneficiaries.

  2. Filing for Letters of Administration: Next, you need to file for letters of administration. This involves listing all the deceased’s assets and liabilities and naming the beneficiaries who will inherit these assets.

  3. Gazette Notice: The case is then published in the Kenya Gazette for six months. This public notice allows any potential claimants to come forward and assert their claims on the estate.

The Role of the Chief in Succession Cases

The area chief plays a crucial role in the succession process by issuing a letter of recognition. This letter serves as an official document confirming the identity of the deceased and their beneficiaries, which is essential for initiating the succession process.

Filing for Letters of Administration

When filing for letters of administration, it is important to provide a comprehensive list of the deceased’s assets and liabilities. This transparency ensures that all debts are settled and the remaining estate is fairly distributed among the beneficiaries.

Gazetting the Succession Case

The gazette notice is a crucial step in the succession process. It serves as a public announcement, giving potential claimants a six-month window to come forward with any claims they might have on the deceased’s estate. This step helps prevent future disputes and ensures all legitimate claims are addressed.

Court Involvement in Succession Cases

After the gazette notice period, the court steps in to verify the beneficiaries. Each beneficiary may be required to provide identification and confirm their relationship to the deceased. The court then appoints an administrator to oversee the distribution of the estate.

Administrator’s Responsibilities

The appointed administrator is responsible for distributing the deceased’s assets according to the law or the deceased’s will. The administrator must ensure fair and equitable distribution and may not benefit personally from the estate unless specified in the will.

Dealing with Disputes and Claims

Disputes and claims are common in succession cases. Beneficiaries or potential claimants can contest the will or the proposed distribution of assets. Mediation and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are often used to resolve these conflicts amicably.

Dying with a Will (Testate Succession)

When a person dies with a valid will, the process of testate succession begins. The will outlines the deceased’s wishes, and the court ensures these wishes are honored by granting probate and overseeing the distribution of the estate.

Filing for Grant of Probate

To initiate testate succession, the executor named in the will must file for a grant of probate. This legal document gives the executor the authority to administer the estate according to the terms of the will.

Validating and Executing the Will

The court reviews the will to ensure it meets all legal requirements. Once validated, the executor can begin distributing the assets as specified in the will.

What Should a Will Contain?

A valid will should list all beneficiaries and provide for their needs. It should also include the deceased’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and appoint an executor to oversee the process. Importantly, the will should not disinherit any rightful heirs without a valid reason, as this could lead to its revocation.

Revocation of a Will

A will can be revoked if it is found to be invalid. Common grounds for revocation include lack of proper signing, coercion, or failure to provide for all beneficiaries. The legal process for revoking a will involves presenting these grounds to the court.

Costs Involved in Filing a Succession Case

Filing a succession case involves various costs, including court fees and legal expenses. The cost depends on the value of the deceased’s estate. For assets below KSh 20 million, the case is filed in the magistrate court, while estates above this value are handled by the High Court.

Intermeddling with Deceased’s Property

Intermeddling refers to the unauthorized handling of the deceased’s property before the succession case is filed. This is illegal and can lead to severe penalties. It is essential to wait until the succession process is legally initiated to prevent any legal issues.

Understanding the Law of Succession in Kenya is crucial for ensuring the fair and legal distribution of a deceased person’s estate. Whether dealing with intestate or testate succession, following the proper legal procedures helps avoid disputes and ensures that the deceased’s wishes are honored.


  1. What is the difference between intestate and testate succession?

    • Intestate succession occurs when a person dies without a will, while testate succession happens when a person dies with a valid will.
  2. How can a will be revoked?

    • A will can be revoked if it lacks proper signing, was made under duress, or fails to provide for all rightful beneficiaries.
  3. What happens if someone contests a succession case?

    • If a succession case is contested, the court may use mediation to resolve the dispute. If mediation fails, the court will make a final decision.
  4. How long does the succession process take?

    • The process typically takes at least six months due to the