The Sunday Mail
In penning “Neria”, the soundtrack to the feature film of the same title, the late national hero, Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, captured the life of many Zimbabwean widows.
Neria brings to the fore the fight between a widow and her in-laws, after the death of her husband in an accident.
The in-laws use the inheritance for self-benefit at the expense of Neria and her two children.
Almost three decades later, the Neria message, delivered with tear-jerking precision in the hour-and-half-long feature film, remains relevant today.
As it was in the song and film, so it is in real life for Tsitsi Goredema, a 16-year-old girl in Glenview 1. She recollects how her family has suffered since the death of their father, Japhet Goredema, last year in May.
Her father left behind his wife (Tsitsi’s mother) of 17 years and three children, but their income-generating properties were taken by relatives.
The father left a sizeable portion of property and cars — all were seized.
“My mother was left with nothing and I had to transfer from a boarding school because she could not afford my school fees.
“Our uncle is now staying with us, he claims he deserves a share at our place,” narrated Tsitsi.
Had her father left a will behind, his family would not be in such a predicament.
This family is not alone in this predicament. Issues of disputed estates are commonplace.
The Will Writing Centre notes that statistics of people who die without leaving a will are on the rise.
A will, also called a testament, is a legal document by which a person expresses his or her wishes regarding how their property will be distributed in the event of death.
Deceased estates consultant, Hamilton Gumunyu Ndhlovu, said housewives are the most affected when their spouses die without a will.
He said, for instance, the surviving partner might fail to get their spouse’s benefits from the former employer in the absence of a will.
“There has been an overwhelming improvement in terms of awareness on the subject but there is still a challenge when it comes to execution.
“Some societies still remain attached to beliefs that writing a will or preparing for your family’s life after your death is taboo,” he said.
Wills silence disputes, he added.
The Wills Writing Centre last year established an Inheritance Trust targeting the vulnerable members of society. The trust also benefits minor children who have no capacity of getting legal assistance or pay estate duty.
“People continue to die without wills while others leave behind wills that are unprofessionally prepared. Such wills are rejected by the court in terms of the Wills Act,” he explained.
According to the Wills Act, Chapter 6:06, any person above 16 is capable of making a will, provided they are of sound mind and capable of giving evidence in a court of law. Whereas wills can be oral or written, the written one should be signed by the testator and three competent witnesses in the presence of each other.
A testator is the one making the will and a competent witness, according to the Act, is anyone above 16.
“If one is illiterate, they should direct someone they trust to sign on their behalf or they should put a mark but this should be done in the presence of a commissioner of oaths or magistrate. It should be certified on the will that the testator is satisfied with the one signing on their behalf. When writing the will, dates, place of signing and signatures of the testator and witnesses should be included for the will to be deemed valid,” explained Ndhlovu.
According to the 30-day clause, after the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse gets everything. If one drafts a will that does not benefit his/her spouse, that will can be challenged in the courts.
Under the Administration of Estates Act (Chapter 6:01), if one is married under the Marriage Act and goes into a second marriage under the customary law, without dissolving the first, the second marriage is invalid for inheritance.
But, if one marries under Customary Marriages Act then goes into another marriage under Chapter 5:11 without dissolving the first, both marriages are treated as valid for inheritance.
In a bid to embrace the will writing concept, churches have been inviting will writing and law personnel to enlighten their congregants.However, traditional leaders have remained on the sidelines.
Chief Makoni, born Donald Kamba, said some areas have failed to embrace will writing because, at least according to African traditions, wills never existed. According to African traditional religion, a child is owned by the entire village, so is a widow or a widower, therefore there is no need to write a will.
“Traditionally, extended as we are, we are family and if one dies, their family becomes our collective responsibility which is one of the main reasons we never had wills. There are cultural norms and values that governed society and that alone was a will enough. Those days there were no family divisions and fights but unfortunately the younger generations have abandoned these values,” he said.
The chief said, if one has a child out of wedlock, they are supposed to open up to their spouse or any family member so that the child has equal entitlement to the deceased estate.