Some civilians who were caught in the Libyan cross fire
Despite the seeming courage he displayed to the world in the face of a crumbling situation in his country, the late Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Qathafi seemed to have nursed a looming fear that he was going to fall to his attackers. And should that happen, he seemed to have preferred a calm and peaceful aftermath should he die in the process. In the midst of the agitation therefore, he wrote his last Will.
My curiosity about making Wills piqued a couple of weeks ago. I had heard in a news report that the website of the late Colonel had published his last Will. On reflection, I thought: “if this guy could think of a Will at a time when his world was crushing on him and had multiples of crises to deal with, why not everyone else?”
In the Will, the late leader pledged among other things that should he be killed, he would like to be buried according to Muslim rituals and in the clothes he was wearing at the time of his death. He did not want his body to be washed. The Will also indicated that he should be buried in the cemetery at Sirte, his home town, and next to his family and relatives.
On reading some of the contents of the Will, one thing which touched me emotionally is the seemingly caring family man that he was. He is quoted to have requested in the Will he left behind that his family, especially women and children, be treated well after his death. Who, one may ask is going to observe his last wishes when already we understand his body has been buried in a secret location?
Given the circumstances under which he died, the late Libyan leader‘s wish may not be carried through by the authorities but at least, he foresaw the confusion that might arise in his absence and therefore tried to capture his last wish on paper. That probably is the essence of a Will – to direct order and predict peace and calm.
Nearly 30 years ago in my village, my late father set the pace for others to follow when he left a written Will. Perhaps anticipating tranquility and order after his death with no nephew breathing over his estate, he made sure that he did not leave oral pledges but legally binding instructions on how his estate should be shared.
On the day of the reading of his Will, his executor, then one of the prominent chiefs in the country, wanted to make a point to the men from the village. He used my father’s example as an “open invitation” for people to come and learn and go and do likewise.
It must have been an example well set. Prominent individuals from the village took some cue. Till today many a widow who previously would have been thrown out of their matrimonial homes by their late husbands’ nephews and relations now have some relative comfort.
Generally, what is the Ghanaian attitude to writing a Will? Luckily, our custom makes provision for the dead leaving behind some form of arrangement, verbally though, to take care of their estate. In Twi, this form of a Will is referred to as “nsamansiw”. With time however, the verbal “instructions” are dying off. Maybe it is because such oral “instructions” could not be contested in court. Many instead, are seeking legal assistance to make their Wills.
As I reflected for example, on the countless cases of traumatized widows and children for example whose loved ones had died intestate, I sought to understand why some people are not making Wills and the legal and moral implications of leaving a last Will and dying without one. I sought to understand why anyone with assets and a property or two would die without leaving clear guidelines as to how his or her estate should be shared out particularly if they know that they have troublesome relatives.
In a chat with Reverend Stella Bentsi-Enchill, an experienced Lawyer in family matters and one of the two first ever female priests to be ordained into the Accra Diocese of the Anglican Church, I asked questions that could take me to the bottom of my curiosity. According to Reverend Stella Bentsi-Enchill, generally, the Ghanaian attitude to writing a Will has been one of “it’s not for someone like me”, or “it is for those who are rich.”
In her 42 years experience as a Lawyer, she has come to observe that to some Ghanaians, the writing of a Will is the business of “those who have troublesome family relations.” According to her, fear and sometimes procrastination are also delaying the writing of Wills. But thank God people are learning from some of the pain and acrimonies that unfold when deceased relatives die intestate. More people are now writing their Wills.
A few times people write their own Wills by listing what they would like do after their demise and keep such list in a safe place. According to Lawyer Stella Bentsi-Enchill, such a practice is not binding. She explained that even though there is no requirement in Law that a Will must be prepared by a Lawyer, in practice, as Wills might have to be interpreted in a court of Law, it is preferable that Wills are prepared by a legally trained person.
Luckily, one law which has been a blessing to Ghanaian families is the Intestate Succession Law (P.N.D.C. Law 111) which came into force in 1985. According to Rev. Stella Bentsi-Enchill, this Law has ensured that many of the injustices that widows and their children suffered in the past have minimized considerably.
However, there are still some difficult cases where for example siblings are fighting bitter fights in court or outside court over their parents’ properties because the parents died intestate. Some step-children likewise are in litigation with their step-mothers over their fathers’ estate because the father died without leaving behind a Will that would have made things easier for everybody.
For every adult married or unmarried, who has dependants, who has a property or assets of any kind, employed with prospects of benefits, the time to write your Will is now if you have not already done so. Talking to Rev. Stella Bentsi-Enchill, the Church can play a big role in getting its members to start writing their Wills. Church groups can begin to demystify Wills by encouraging the conversation on intestacy and the perils thereof. Employers can do their bit by organizing seminars and talks on the topic for their employees and the same with the various social clubs and associations all in the bid to help with the education on making Wills.
As adults, we have the responsibility to help minimize the unnecessary stress and trauma visited on loved ones in the event of death by ensuring that we write our last Wills and not wait till we are incapacitated. For those who have already written theirs, Rev Bentsi-Enchill’s advice is to vary it as many times as they should wish. She said that a Will takes effect from one’s death so till then, one can add on with codicils or make new ones, depending on one’s changing circumstances.
So, if you are reading this and you have not put pen to paper more so to approach a Lawyer to put your last Will together, if it has never crossed your mind that it is time to make your Will, your prompter to do so is here. We can all help to reduce the acrimonies amongst family members over the assets of a departed relation. A word to the wise is enough.