Much ado about wills

PUNCH Newspaper

A retired worker with the Nigerian Ports Authority, 87-year-old Adelani Adebowale, was quick to express his confidence in wills.

Unlike the panic that the mention of the legal document elicits in many people, Adebowale merely laughed, saying ‘‘I believe in wills, yes I do. Even if I were an ordinary farmer, I would not hesitate to make a will.’’

But when he was prodded if he had written one already, he heartily said, ‘‘I will not tell anybody whether I have one by now. I think that would be known by my family when I am no more.’’

It is however unlikely that many will want to discuss the subject of making a will as cheerfully as Adebowale did. This is because will-related issues tend to send a chill down the spines of many who feel that asking when they would make a will is tantamount to wishing them dead.

For instance, Alfred Ifeanyi, a food technologist, said he hated the idea of will making because ‘‘I find it difficult sharing things among people not to talk of distributing my belongings or estate among loved ones through a legal document when I die. I will prefer to share whatever I have while alive to those I select as beneficiaries.’’

But in contrast, a London-based Nigerian, Omololu Ogunleye, who is in his early thirties, noted that even though many hate to hear about death, it is inevitable.

Ogunleye, who expressed unshaken faith in wills, added that he would not commence the process until he attains 70.When asked why he would wait that long, he said, ‘‘I do not want to think that I would die before 70. But I will not compromise making a will because I want my estate to be divided as I wish. ’’

Similarly, a student in one of the federal universities, Miss Timilehin Osunde, said she would make a will but only after making a billion dollars. Though she refused to say why such an amount of money would be a condition for her making a will, Osunde added that she would make one.

Also, a 27-year-old up-and-coming hip hop singer, Olabinjo Olurinu, chose 45 as his preferred age of making a will. He added that he would not delay it beyond that age because the world is becoming more uncertain.

According to him, unforeseen circumstances could befall anybody at anytime and it would be foolhardy to delay making a will. ‘‘The world is unpredictable. Nobody knows what may happen at anytime and that is the reason for one not to toy with such a vital issue. I may not have enough now, but I certainly won’t joke with making a will,’’ Olurinu stated.

Like Olurinu, Olumide Olasukanmi, who works as a legal assistant in a private hospital, stated that he would make a will immediately after his marriage.

He said, ‘‘I will want to make my will by 40 because, as they say, life begins at 40. A will is likely to check any internal wrangling that may arise in my nuclear family after my death, especially from some persons that may want to reap where they did not sow. ’’

But people like Folusho Matthew seem to pick holes in the submission of Olasunkanmi. Matthew said there were cases where some individuals made wills and there were still problems within their families shortly after their death. In truth, children of a prominent lawyer are at loggerheads over their late father’s estate.

A legal practitioner, Jiti Ogunye, said even though some may argue that certain individuals who inherit wills still fight over the estates of their dead, it is advantageous to leave a will rather than die intestate (without a will). He noted that many misconceptions exist about will making so much so that once it is mentioned, some people express aversion to it.

Ogunye said, “It seems you are reminding them about the inevitability of death. But a will is a testamentary and revocable document by which a person known as the testator disposes of his personal and real assets to beneficiaries, including his loved ones. A will speaks after death. It does not come before the transition of the maker of the will. It is a testament or intentions of the maker upon his or her transition.’’

The lawyer further said the document is revocable because after making a will, the maker could make another one to supersede the one already made or make a smaller version to explain or incorporate certain property acquired in the intervening period in the substantive will.

‘‘That is why when an individual is near death, doctors can advise him or her to go and put his or her house in order or tidy up her or his affairs. Part of tidying up one’s affairs or putting one’s house in order is making a will to ensure that things are done in the way and manner one would have done them if one were to be alive,” he added.

Ogunye also stated that besides being statutory, a will could also be oral under customary law and traditional society.

He also said some people assign their property to their children while they are alive through deed of conveyance. According to him, nomination is another way through which a property owner can appoint someone to hold his assets in the event of his or her death.

He added, ‘‘Besides, there is donatus notis causa which implies that an asset owner who is sick gives his property to a beneficiary in contemplation of death. But if such a person survives the sickness, the arrangement is cancelled because it is initially conditioned on the possibility of his death. Also, there is settlement inter vivos which implies a transfer of property between a giver and a potential beneficiary. If the beneficiary dies before the maker of the settlement, that transfer still stands.’’

Commenting on the issue, son to late legal icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Mohammed, noted that a will is a very important document especially for someone who has a lot of assets. Mohammed, who is a will beneficiary, stated that a will seeks to check crises in the sharing of what is left behind after the death of the testator.

He explained that it is also very important for a person who intends to make a will to be honest about it.

He said, ‘‘My father was very honest in his will and that was why there were no crises among us after the execution of his will. A person who knows he is leaving some inheritances for his children must will them appropriately to avert a scenario where confusion will be the order of the day after his death.

“For instance, my father did not give me a single plot of land. This is because he knew that if I needed a land, I would buy and that I do not like the idea of being willed one. My father knew that I am only passionate about continuing with his legacy and strengthening the unity among my siblings.”

On whether a will can be recorded, a lawyer, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, said it is a requirement of the law that a will must be in writing and witnessed by two witnesses in whose presence the will must be signed by the testator.

He also added that any will that does not meet the requirement is invalid.

The SAN, who advised Nigerians that making a will does not mean death is imminent, also reiterated that the document enables the survivors or beneficiaries of the testator to dispose of his assets and settle his acknowledged debts without rancour.

According to him, any person of age can make a will although people usually wait to attain the age of 40 and above before thinking of making a will.

Also, Ogunye stated that any adult can make a will and such a person needs not be married. He however noted that once an individual marries, the earlier will made before marriage is revoked because the Marriage Act indicates that the couple is one and the husband should provide for his wife.

Ogunye added, ‘‘People can will books, body organs, estates, property, money or cars. It is not expensive to make a will. But a man who wants to dispose billions of assets in a will cannot be expected to pay same amount with someone who is giving out a two-bedroom flat with some adjoining boy’s quarters. Charges will be more for a huge asset because the labour will be more, not necessarily in terms of making the will, but in terms of anticipating what may likely happen after the transition of the testator.’’

The lawyer noted that the best places to keep a will are the Probate Registry, banks or with one’s lawyers.

According to him, it is advisable to replicate these processes.


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