Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Williams v. Wynn Supreme Court of Liberia (1914)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

This case established a precedent for property rights of a widow when her husband dies intestate. On appeal, the Supreme Court excluded from probate ten acres of land to which Ms. Williams claimed title. Ms. Williams’ husband died intestate and the executor of his estate, appointed by the Probate Court, included all real and personal property from the marriage in determining the assets of the estate. Ms. Williams claimed that she held title to ten acres of property that her husband had purchased through a third party, with title vesting in the wife. The executor argued, and the trial court held, that all property acquired through the husband could be made liable for his debts. The trial court relied upon the Constitution of Liberia, which states “The property of which a woman may be possessed at the time of her marriage and also that of which she may afterwards become possessed, otherwise than by her husband shall not be held responsible for his debts.” The court reasoned that this clause implies that property acquired through her husband could be held liable for his debts. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that if a husband acquires property in the name of a third party, who becomes the medium through which title vests in the wife, the wife has an absolute right in that property and is not liable for the claims of the husband’s creditors. The court failed to apply this holding to personal property of the marriage, however, stating that instead personal property procured and owned by the deceased for the common use of the household is an asset of the estate.