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Do wills fuel family feuds in Africa?

AfricaHYS Team | 15:13 UK time, Wednesday, 17 November 2010

As the family of  Zambia's former President Levy Mwanawasa head for court in a row over his will, Africa Have Your Say asks whether wills can cause more problems than they solve?

A will is supposed to represent the final wishes of a deceased person, and yet the process can often lead to tensions over land, property and other possessions left behind.

So how effective are wills? How do you ensure your wishes are respected? Why are so many wills contested in court? How can family conflict be avoided?

What is your experience?

If you would like to debate this topic LIVE on air on Thursday 18 November at 1600 GMT, please include a telephone number. It will not be published. 


  • Comment number 1.

    I am very sure family conflicts will be avoided if the will is always written transparently.Other than that, there will always be conflicts.Maybe we really need to be educated very clearly the elements that needs to be contained when writing a will so that the court will not be burdened because some of these issues can be solved outside the law court.After all everybody want to be treated fairly and justly so it should go in that direction.
    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 2.

    The will of the dead person, written on paper signed and kept at the court is normally respected here in Ghana. What brings about conflicts in when the will is made verbally. This is when feuding members of the family will not agree to what is being said was said by the dead relative.

  • Comment number 3.

    Africa faces two problems as far as family inheritence is concerned. First is the notion that when a man dies, then his parents and siblings also have a stake in his wealth and must have a share of it even if the man was married and had children. I have witnessed many court cases between the wife of the deceased and the parents of the deceased battling over wealth of the deceased. I blame it on African social set-up where the wife is viewed as an outsider in the home and 'should not enjoy the wealth of our son or brother alone'.

    The other problem emanate from the fact that many African men will disguise themselves as having only one wife yet they have hidden another wife elsewhere. In Kenya, we refer to such women in Swahili dialect as 'mpango wa kando'. Some men are so secretive to an extent that they sire kids with the other woman and the kids become adults without the knowledge of the first wife. When the man dies without a will, 'mpango wa kando' emerges from the blues to claim a share of wealth of the deceased.

    I therefore feel that wills are very important and Africans need it that any other group in the world.

  • Comment number 4.

    You see sometimes wills are not properly authored. You find in some cases the person who is executing the will simply asks someone to write it on his behalf with a poor understanding that possibly it is a standard form. Others even ask friends in a drinking spree as to how or she should do distribution. I know of someone who declared part of his estates to a child of his boss at work, for whatever reason i do not know.
    I think the best is for one to be more knowledgeable on this aspect because it is other people who will literally interpret what you have left behind. It is a big problem especially in Africa.
    I agree with 1. Elizabeth - Transparency too should serve as a requisite to such

  • Comment number 5.

    [Personal details removed by Moderator]The only problem with wills is that those who do not benefit properly always see them as the secret plot of those benefiting. I think one best way to solve the problem is the writers should allow beneficiaries to see the wills.

  • Comment number 6.

    I don't see why people should fight or make quarrels over the will of a family member. I believe that if we prepare ourselves(by building your human resource capacity) well we won't have to worry about the property of our dead family members. Just equip yourself today and you won't have to worry about who gets what in a dead family member's will.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    i think some of the lawyers have problem,before ever they could pen down anything for those who are making the will, i believe they should have ask them properly about the family they have,how many wives and children they have, how many relatives they have.i think base on this they could able to pen down the will according to the family the man have.but most of them as sooner they have facing this huge amount of money they will write down anything that the willers will say.and if this continue problems will always be in our families and Africa as a whole

  • Comment number 9.

    Is my informed view that like western type of democracy, written wills need to be propagated, right from the African village. At present, not all people in Africa recognise the written will - if anything, Africans will respect a spoken will more than they will respect a written will.

    Can I highlight the fact that economic poverty makes a written will difficult to honour. In our wider society, the majority of the family members depend on the income of the person who has a job and an income to give them money for food, send their children to school, pay their medical bills, provide transport money for them to visit their "well off" relative - the list of dependance is endless. This is not necessarily bad in itself, especially if the dependant family members are not able to earn a living for truly genuine reasons.

    On the other hand, the best way forward is to encourage a culture of everyone earning their own living or income, so that no one is "eyeing anyone to die" so that they can have a share of the deceaseds' property, and solve their financial problems.

    A sad and funny observation is that some "property garbbers" will take a fridge from the deceaseds' home, take it to the village where there is no electricity. What will they use it for? Use it as a cupboard or wardrobe.

    Poverty is the obstacle that must be crossed to make written wills beneficial.

  • Comment number 10.

    Wills are very much vital in African societies, if only Lawyers and witnesses makes a fair play by not inter-fairing with it in favor of part A or B. I 've seen and had about lawyers and witnesses reducing them selves to such level.

  • Comment number 11.

    My experience is that even if wills are there and they are clear, no one is ever happy and most people find ways to hinder the implementation of the will and get away with much of the property through devious means while the wrangling is going on.

    I just truly admire the Islam inheritance law as per the Holy Quran and Sunnah which takes the matter of inheritance out of human hands, as a divine law dictates its distribution. God Almighty has ordained the shares in accordance with the level of responsibility of each individual in teh family, and fixed the proportions of how the wealth of the deceased is to be distributed. Since its a divine decree who can question it!

    Expediency is imperative, the sooner its distributed the better, less time for wrangles.

    Islam does not totally take away the right to make a will. One third of the property can be willed away so long as its not to an heir or to disinherit an heir.

    This law if properly implemented, ensures that wealth does not accumulate in few hands, and circulates in society, which is what keeps any society economically healthy.

    I suggest the implementation of the divine decree, this will lessen the wrangles.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    Of course,a will is more of a problem than solution.It could become a major cause of family breakdown,because no matter how rational the deceased has made the will,it is never resonable or acceptable to all parties as there is always a suspicion of foul play and impression of favouratism.
    We should also bear in mind that there are some cultures especially in Nigeria where first son takes priority regardless of the will.In this circumstance,we must be expecting major conflict between what the culture says and what the will says.

  • Comment number 14.

    If justice and equity are exercised, there could not be a family dispute over wills. For the extended family in African context, start with the eldest son to the youngest, elders wife to the youngest, eldest brother to the youngest and so on. In the even that the person distributing the will deviates from this system of natural justice, then other members stand up for their rights.

  • Comment number 15.

    In Africa now are many things that I think contributes to conflict when one dies. Most of the time this only happens when the husband died but not the wife. To me I think the law binding marriages are incompatible to most Africans including the conflicting individuals involved so to say. Africans naturally or traditionally heritage have the spirit of sharing,caring and to keep up the large and extended family. They help to upbringing their siblings through thick&thin since they regard whoever is born in the clan belongs to them and that everyone have a role to upbringing that person.Many people become rich through this blessing and that what may draw to conflict of that nature. Coming to marriages, men in Africa they pay lobolla (a fine) b4 taking the daughter of one as a wife. During the life of the said husband in case he has problems of any kind he rushes to his relatives for help be it hunger in the house or whatever problems that might affect him and even when he fell serious sick some wives do abandon their husbands to be taken care-of by their mothers or living brothers (extended family ones). Even when he dies the funeral expenses becomes the burden of that clan. In most cases you find wises folding their hands back waiting for the bereaving moment to pass and inherit what the husband left and never turn the face to her-in-laws. Most all the conflicts come from a point of this kind of observation. Some it is being instigated by sisters of the later even if they are married without realizing that what goes out comes around as well. I personal believe the lobolla (a fine)issue is also a daunting issue hence the way I understand it is to pay a lobolla (a fine) for a person to be part of that family and not to run away with everything when the husband dies. Honestly, courts are approached by those who think they understand their rights when they want to take everything for themselves but the typical African women never do that and there never happens cases of conflict of interests when their loved ones died for they have always been in peace with every one.

  • Comment number 16.

    Yes! Wills causes more problem than it claim to avoid
    because: the wills is mostly tampered with by some scrupo
    lous member of the family. secondly, when it became obvious
    that some persons are over given..and finally when some
    members are already bent on inheriting a particular thing..
    the will also create enemity and division among members
    of the family when the decease person show too much love
    to a particular child than the rest..in Nigeria it has
    resulted clashes, witchunting, killing. etc so it is better
    for one not to write a will. rather a family company where
    every one will benefit equaly.

  • Comment number 17.

    In Nigeria especially Eastern part of the country, Will and Last Testaments of the dead are always being contested in courts. I sincerely believe that the loopholes in our legal systems are being capitalized in making nonsense of wills. second, its a great disservice to the dead that their will are being contested with mostly an aim to rubbish it. our people need better education of the essence and sacredness of the wish of the dead.it suppose to be respected and strictly obeyed.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    As a matter of fact, a WILL is a legal binding desire stated or expressed categorically, mostly on paper. Frankly, wills are intended to avoid or stop family feuds rather than create one in the first place. In reality, the will of a deceased person cannot create family worries if and only if the courts of the land are free from bribery and corruption. Furthermore, in a case where an individual senses that a will may create a division in his/her family, I think it would be wise for that particular individual especially the one making the will to get an outsider (neutral person) to educate the entire family (Both the immediate & the extended family)about the importance/purposes of will making in a family. Shalom

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    This is news to me, all along I was assumming that they have "Will" Administrators or Courts to settle heirs' claims in Africa.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    Only among those with no will.


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