22nd January, 2014
By Solomon Asowata
A will is a legally enforceable declaration of how a person wishes his or her property should be shared after death.
Writing a will is what many people would not want to think about, as it could be difficult to sit down and think about death and what happens to one’s property thereafter.
However, an online commentator, Mr Anthony Horn, insists that will provides loved ones with several advantages because “if an individual dies without a will, his estate will be distributed as prescribed by law.
“If a valid will is left, the property goes in accordance with the provisions of the will. I am sure no one would want his/her property to be handled by law.”
In spite of the advantages of writing a will, the practice is yet to gain the desired acceptance in Nigeria.
Available records show that 3,718 people collected Letters of Administration from the Probate Registry of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja Division in 2012.
Letters of Administration are obtained from the probate by relatives of people who died intestate (without leaving a will) for the administration of their estate.
A World Bank report indicates that the average life expectancy in Nigeria as at 2011 was 52 years; the 17th lowest in the world.
In spite of this statistics, the majority of Nigerians, irrespective of societal status, ethnic group or religion, have refused to imbibe the culture of will writing.
A former Chief Registrar of the Lagos High Court, Mr Ganiyu Safari, attributes this to superstitious beliefs, noting that “an average Nigerian thinks you wish him dead if you ask him to make a will.”
He points out that failure to write a will often creates problems in the administration of deceased persons’ estates.
“It is in your best interest to write a will once you are an adult and have started acquiring property.
“With your will, you can distribute your estate the way you want by overlooking traditions, customs and religious beliefs.
“That is why we need to enlighten Nigerians to develop the culture of writing a will.”
Mr Onyekachi Ubani, the Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja, insists that writing a Will before death is very important to avoid conflicts in the sharing of deceased persons’ property.
Ubani is worried that some lawyers fail to write a will even when the NBA is encouraging its members to do so.
“The moment you fail to write a will, you have created a lacuna and given room for crisis that may emanate after your demise.
“Some of your family members, who were not there when you were struggling with your wife, may come and take over the property,” he says.
He notes that such conflicts often lead to series of litigation which result in congesting the courts, explaining that will writing is not difficult.
“The will must be in writing. It must be signed by the testator (the writer) and must be attested to by two witnesses in the presence of the testator.
“The maker of the will must be 18 years and above and should have soundness of mind.
“It will be lodged at the probate section of the high court. When you die, the will becomes a valid document,” he says.
Another lawyer, Mr Samson Omodara, suggests that the testator’s doctor should be a witness to the will.
“Ideally, a will is not supposed to be contested by the beneficiaries, but in most cases, the authenticity of wills are doubted; so, it is preferable to have the man’s doctor as one of the witnesses.”
On how to promote the culture in Nigeria, another lawyer, Mr Yemi Omodele, calls for more sensitisation of the citizens to the importance of will writing.
“In our churches and mosques, leaders can encourage their followers to write wills because death is inevitable.”
He says that will writing involves less paperwork and is aimed at encouraging beneficiaries to come forward and claim the estates of their loved ones.
A teacher, Mrs Ngozi Onyema, urges the National Orientation Agency to collaborate with the NBA to educate Nigerians on why they should embrace will writing.
She advocates that will writing should be included in the curriculum of tertiary institutions to increase awareness on its importance.
However, the existence of a will may not entirely check litigation.
The two children of late Prof. Omo Omoruyi, the Director-General of defunct Centre for Democratic Studies, had gone to court to challenge the will written by their father.
The deceased children, Mrs Amenze Omoruyi-Okungbowa and Mrs Ivie Omoruyi-Idehen want to a Benin High Court to void the will written by their father.
The two daughters of the late professor “want the court to declare that the will of late Prof. Omoruyi be declared null and void, same being contrary to Bini Native Law and Customs.”
Though will can be challenged, the fact remains that the testator has decided on how his/her property should be shared.
Will writing should be encouraged in order to reduce litigation after the demise of property owners’ over who gets what by their children and relatives.
—Asowata wrote this article for the News Agency of Nigeria.