Definition of Property Grabbing and Adverse Possession

last updated December 2014

 

In partnership with UN Women, The Advocates for Human Rights created the following sections for UN Women's Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. This section, along with sections addressing other forms of violence against women and girls, may be found under Legislation at www.endvawnow.org.


Definition of Property Grabbing and Adverse Possession    

Property grabbing

  • Legislation should define and address property grabbing perpetrated against a widow by her in-laws and/or other community members. Drafters should either adopt a specific and comprehensive offense for property grabbing or address it through other related offenses. A specific offense of property grabbing should define it as the taking of property of a deceased person from the surviving wife and/or children to whom it stands to be distributed pursuant to inheritance. Such property may include the marital home, land, and any other moveable or non-moveable property. Other related offenses include theft, embezzlement or conversion, unauthorized use, and criminal trespass, as well as attempts thereof. Legislation should also address the physical violence or threats that may accompany property grabbing. See: Section on Criminal Laws.
  • Laws addressing property grabbing from widows should define theft as the taking of moveable or non-moveable property from a widow’s possession before proper distribution of the deceased’s estate. Legislation should outline aggravating factors in theft, such as where the property taken is valuable or important to a widow’s livelihood, the taking causes significant loss to the widow in light of her circumstances, the perpetrator takes advantage of the victim’s status as a widow or other vulnerability such as HIV status, the perpetrator carries out the taking using a dangerous weapon or threats to the widow and her family, or the taking involves a break-in to the widow’s occupied residence.  
  • Laws addressing property grabbing from widows should define embezzlement or corruption as the taking of assets or moveable property from the widow which are in the in-laws’ possession. Legislation should outline aggravating factors, such as where the property or assets are valuable or important to a widow’s livelihood, the offense causes significant loss to the widow in light of her circumstances, and the perpetrator takes advantage of his position of particular responsibility, including as an executor of the will.
  • Legislation addressing property grabbing from widows should define unauthorized use as the use of moveable and non-moveable property of the widow without her freely given permission. Aggravating factors should include the perpetrator’s use of the property to seek significant monetary benefit or significant loss or inconvenience to the victim.
  • Legislation addressing property grabbing from widows should define criminal trespass as taking possession of, moving or hiding moveable property that is in the widow’s possession, the  use of land in the widow’s possession  without her freely given permission such as by farming, excavating, burying humans or animals, grazing animals, or taking possession of land or building that is in the widow’s possession.


Adverse possession

 

Legislation should also address other insidious forms of property grabbing, such as adverse possession tactics. Legislation should describe adverse possession as an act by which one party possesses the land of another until she or he can claim legal title to it. Generally, the elements may require possession to be real, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, under the guise of a claim or right, continuous and uninterrupted for a specific time period. Drafters should ensure that a definition is sufficiently broad to encompass different adverse possession tactics. For example, the deceased’s relatives may plant crops on the fringe of a widow’s land to shift boundaries which may constitute an attempt to adversely possess a portion of her land.