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Parents hesitant to leave property to their children

Parents hesitant to leave property to their children

Parents increasingly see the younger generation as an irresponsible lot that will squander inherited wealth

Some parents are not keen to include their children in their will, expecting them to work hard and make their own wealth, reveals a new study.

One in six Kenyans saving for retirement do not consider it important to leave their wealth to their children when they die, according to the study on Attitudes to Inheritance in Kenya.

A third of the respondents surveyed, driven by altruism and a concern to leave a mark in the society, even said they have thought of leaving their wealth to entities outside their family. However, the study by a social welfare financial services company Enwealth Financial Services Limited, did not state if such people had families or not.

''Even though oral wills are valid in law, they have to be made in the presence of two or more competent witnesses and the person who makes the will dies within three months of doing so,'' explains Ms Brenda Majune, a lawyer.

Even with a scope limited to membership in pension schemes, the study shows that the tradition that children inherit parents’ property upon their death almost automatically could be slowly but surely changing.

''Some parents believe that the child needs to go through the same hardships they went through, an opinion largely held by men,'' explains Dr Gladys Nyachieo, a sociologist and a senior lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya.

Irresponsible generation

The study also depicts an older generation with little confidence in the ability of a younger generation they consider irresponsible. About 30 percent of the respondents said they did not fully trust their children with the ability to manage their inheritance well. Considering that a much lower 16 percent said they did not consider it important to leave behind wealth for their children, it follows almost an equal proportion (14 percent) do not trust their children’s ability to manage inherited wealth but consider it important to bequeath them property nonetheless.

According to Dr Nyachieo, parents generally wish to have their property go to their children upon death regardless of intervening factors such as the children’s inability to manage the assets. She says that it is only in cases when men doubt paternity that they become reluctant to pass over wealth to children.

While children, regardless of age and gender, have a right to inherit their parents’ wealth, the law does not compel any parent to leave an inheritance to them. ''Some parents may not have any property at all to leave behind, and they cannot be punished for that, while for others, it is not uncommon to hear that despite their massive wealth, they have disinherited their children for one reason or another'' explains Ms Majune. But the disinherited child can petition the court to consider giving them a portion and courts can rule in their favour and against the wishes of the deceased.

Three in five respondents did not have a written will, despite four in five believing it is important to have one. But Dr Nyachieo says that if a similar study were to be done in a way that is representative of Kenyans in general, it would show that the share of Kenyans without a written will is much bigger. ''Out there, very few Kenyans have written a will. People with pension plans generally are forward-looking and therefore generally more receptive to the idea of having a written will,'' she says.

Unnecessary expense?

About four percent of those surveyed say that a written will is either against their cultural norms or they find it time-consuming and expensive. Another one percent deem a formal will unnecessary as they will use all their wealth before they die.
A random survey in Nairobi by Newsplex complements those of the Enwealth survey, with all four parent interviewees saying they recognised the importance of writing a will but did not have one. The reasons given were that it was too early and that wills are written by the elderly, they did not have a reason, or that they did not have anything worth leaving behind.

''I have nothing valuable to leave for my children, unless my clothes and these sufurias here!'' said a food vendor.

Edwin Omondi, 27, a cobbler in Nairobi’s central business district, explains that he is yet to have a written will. “Writing a will is like bringing your own casket into the house. Even if I wanted to do so, it would be too shocking to my family members why I’m predetermining my death,” he says.

The father of four, who makes about Sh9,000 a month, says that the high cost of living makes it difficult for people like him to even have something substantial to own, leave alone planning for their children’s future. ''I therefore make an effort to save at least Sh200 per day with a youth group from which I then collect the sum at the end of the year and maybe buy something for my family,'' he explains.

A 2019 FinAccess survey showed that only one in five (22 percent) Kenyans age 16 years and above is able to sustain their livelihood and still invest for the future. This was a dip of more than half from 47 percent in 2016. Having in mind the future of his children, Mr Omondi says that he has already embarked on constructing a two-roomed kiosk back in his home county of Homa Bay, a future source of income for his family when he dies. But he would rather tell his family verbally how he wants his property divided rather than write a will.

Coincidentally, one in six of respondents in the Enwealth study said they inform their succession plans to their families by word of mouth.

Even though oral wills are valid in law, Ms Majune emphasises that they have to be made in the presence of two or more competent witnesses and the person who makes the will dies within three months of doing so.

The importance of leaving an inheritance was highest among respondents aged between 31-40 years, and among respondents with an asset value of less than Sh5 million and those with more than Sh100 million. The study also showed that 83 percent of the respondents had their assets in the form of land and buildings, followed by pension funds (79 percent) and Saccos (75 percent).

Inheritance rows

That many Kenyans do not have a written will could explain the inheritance rows in families, some of which even play out in the media from time to time.

''These disputes may be attributed to a lack of a written will and clear communication from the owner of the properties regarding their intentions on distribution of properties,'' states the report. Dr Nyachieo explains that many people also avoid writing a will under the fear that it might be accessed by family members and lead to conflict, or that potential beneficiaries might wish for or plan their early death in order to hasten the execution of the will.

Indeed, the Justice and Needs Satisfaction in Kenya 2017 survey ranked succession and inheritance issues as the third-most prevalent legal family problem (12 percent), preceded by domestic violence (33 percent), divorce and separation (14 percent). The Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey 2015/2016 graded succession and inheritance disputes as the most common conflicts among households experiencing conflicts. About one in four (26 percent) households surveyed reported experiencing disputes on inheritance or management of a deceased person’s property.

It was followed by land (16 percent), religious or witchcraft offences (14 percent), political disagreements and business-related issues at 10 percent each.