I came across a few of your previous articles and I am hopeful that you will be able to help with my dilemma. I am the first child of my father who recently passed away. He had two wives and five children; one son and four daughters including me. My mother, his first wife had only daughters, while his second wife had a boy and a girl.
Besides my half-brother who has not been able to progress academically, we are all relatively successful in our careers and academics. My father did not have a will, so the family head is going to distribute the inheritance and he is about to give everything to my half-brother, the first and only son, in the name of tradition.
My brother is young and hardly responsible, my sisters and mum also feel cheated. I am worried that my half-brother will mismanage everything my father worked for. Is there anything I can do to ensure the inheritance is distributed among us all? Does tradition still count in this day and age? He left us houses, land, pension fund and cash in his bank account.
Ivie, from Edo state.
Please accept my condolences on the passing of your father. Dealing with the loss of a close relative is never easy. The extra burden of sorting and distributing properties left behind can also be very stressful, especially when the deceased did not have a Will.
When a person dies without a Will, the intestacy rules, native laws and customs and religious rules of the deceased determine the succession of his properties (also known as “Estate”).
To determine which law would be applied, it would also be important to consider your father’s State of Origin. If your father was a Benin man (which I presume) subject to the customs of the Benin tradition, the law requires that the eldest surviving son would be entitled to the family house where your father lived after the performance of the second burial ceremonies while the remaining properties may be distributed amongst the remaining children.
In this scenario, your brother being the eldest son of your father may be entitled to your father’s family house, whilst the remaining of your father’s assets would be distributed amongst the you and all siblings.
Kindly note however that although the traditions may be adopted for the distribution of your father’s assets, those traditions must not on the basis of your gender, violate your rights. Based on a recently decided Supreme Court case, the rights of female children to inherit their parents’ properties was supported, and the Igbo tradition that disinherits female children was found no longer applicable. This means that where the local traditions are in any way contrary to your rights, they would be invalid in effecting the distribution of your father’s assets.
It is important that you strive to maintain family unity in your resolution. Perhaps a family meeting where the distribution process is clearly discussed and agreed upon by concerned persons would help. If you consider it necessary, you could employ the services of a lawyer to guide you on the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment on inheritance, especially as it affects women.
This situation and the accompanying hassle could easily have been avoided if your father had a Will. It is important that you take a learning from this and as such commence planning your estate in good time.