Answer to a question from a reader

How can my late mother's clan name be put on a title deed, instead of my half-brother's father's clan name?

The short answer

You will first need to settle the question of who will become owner of the house.

The whole question

I am looking for information about the title deed of a house. My mother died in September 2019. We are six children. She was married to my father but they got divorced. She had three daughters, including myself, with my father. My mother then also had three sons with another man. She never had a title deed for her house, however now the municipality is issuing title deeds in our village in the Chris Hani District. We took our mother's clan name and my brothers took their father's clan name. We want to keep our mother's clan name alive. What can we do about the title deed to retain my mother's clan name?

The long answer

If your mother died without making a will stating who should inherit her house, you and your two sisters who were born of the customary marriage between your parents before they divorced, and your three brothers who had a different father, would all have equal rights to inherit her house. This is according to the law of intestate succession: that the children will inherit equally, if there is no will specifying who should inherit what.

We know that when a woman marries, she may take her husband's surname, but she always keeps her own clan name and adds the prefix Ma- to it. A clan name is not necessarily a surname, and as you say, your mother’s clan name serves the important purpose of keeping her memory alive. But because the title deed is the only legal proof of ownership, the name/s on a title deed must correspond with the name/s and surnames on your ID. It does not seem clear that you can legally put your mother’s or the boys’ father’s clan names on the title deeds. 

You need to settle the question of whose name/s go on the title deeds between the six of you, always remembering that the name on the title deed signifies the owner of the property. When there are six people who are entitled to an equal share in the house, and some of them may wish to sell their share of the house, it may be best to consider appointing a representative that you all trust to administer the estate.

You may want to take advice from an organisation like the Women’s Legal Centre Trust, which is an NGO that takes up cases to protect and advance women’s human rights.

These are their contact details:

Helpdesk Queries: [email protected]

Telephone: Cape Town: 021 424 5660

Answered on Sept. 30, 2020, 3:24 p.m.

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Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.