Over the past three months, Nelson Kaimba has been stuck in heartbreak and dilemma.
The 48-year-old lost his wife on May 28, 2021 in a road accident along the Kwa Vonza–Kitui road in Kitui County. After her burial at their family home in Kitui County, Nelson was informed by his mother-in-law that his wife had left a will behind.
“I was taken aback. I didn’t know she had a secret will,” he says. Amidst the surprise, Nelson comforted himself that since he had been a faithful husband to his wife for 23 years, he would be the natural beneficiary or trustee to the secret estate she had acquired.
“My wife was a teacher. She had started out as a secondary school teacher before rising through the ranks to the position of deputy principal. At the time of death, she had held the position of principal for five years,” he says.
Nelson was almost certain that there wasn’t much property his wife could have stashed on the side since they were financially open to one another. But alas!
“I was shocked when the will was opened. My wife had accumulated very prime plots of land in Thika and Machakos. She had shares in a teachers sacco worth Sh. 4 million. She had also invested in the wines and spirits business in Matuu County through her younger brother and she was in the process of developing a four bedroom maisonette in Malaa, along Kangundo Road” he says.
His wife had accumulated more wealth in secret than they had accumulated as a couple. But what broke his heart was the list of beneficiaries.
“She listed her beneficiaries as including our three children aged 22, 18 and 16, her mother and two sisters. She also left the wines and spirits business to her brother. I featured nowhere in the list,” says Nelson.
According to the wishes of his late wife, Nelson’s mother-in-law will hold properties left to their children in trust until their last born attains the age of 25. Since the content of his late wife’s will was revealed, Nelson has been lost in a sea of betrayal and internal conflict. He doesn’t know whether to contest the will or not.
“I haven’t had time to mourn my wife properly. I feel as if she betrayed my trust. I had listed her as my next of kin in all my transactions. My will contains her name as the primary beneficiary. Yet I was nowhere in her plans,” he says.
Nelson admits that he is afraid of dragging his children and in-laws to a court battle.
“I could contest, but I also want peace for my children. I am afraid a court battle might cast their mother as selfish or show me off as a greedy husband and father.”
According to psychologist Ken Munyua, the majority of women do not prefer leaving their side assets to their men because of the perception that men are naturally wired to be emotionally and sexually wanderers.
“There is a sense in many women that men are not always oriented towards a singular family unit. They will tend to wander off during the wife’s lifetime and even after her death,” he says.
Munyua adds that in social evolution, men are more likely to remarry after their wife dies than women who are widowed. Men are also more likely to have secret families on the side that their wives don’t know about. This leads women to take steps to protect their interests and the interests of their children even in death.
“With men more likely to remarry after the wife’s death or have secret families on the side, women opt to name their mothers and sisters as beneficiaries or trustees on behalf of their kids. This comes out as the safest option in ensuring their sweat doesn’t benefit other women who may be brought on board, leaving their own kids in the cold,” he says.
This is something Bernice Munialo learned the hard way. She says that her father was retrenched from his parastatal job in 1998, leaving her mother as the sole breadwinner.
“My mother was a general physician. My father retired into small scale farming after losing his job in government. My mother was left to financially raise the family alone. She educated the three of us and acquired the matrimonial farm and home in Kiambu,” says the first born of her mother’s kids.
“Mom died in 2006, leaving our dad as the sole beneficiary to everything she had worked for, a home, shamba, cooperative shares, and money in the bank.” Barely one year after the death of her mother, Bernice’ father remarried.
“I was 22. He married a divorcee of four children. He said that he needed companionship and someone to help him care after the farm. We tried to object but he did it anyway,” she says. Bernice’ father withdrew the money left behind by her mother and opened businesses for his step children.
He then divided the three acre farm his late wife had bought amongst all the children, including his step kids, and announced that the matrimonial home left behind by his late wife would go to his new wife in the event of his death.
“The businesses collapsed within two years. I was so bitter that much of what my mom had worked so hard for was thrown down the drain. It still hurts that my younger siblings had to struggle with fees at the expense of his new family yet mom had left enough for the three of us,” says Bernice. Her father passed away in 2012.
The 37-year-old married mother of two says that although she is married to a wonderful man, she can never dare to include him as a beneficiary or administrator in her will.
“My father loved my mother. He was a good father and husband. But he changed once she died. Men are like a chameleon. They start looking for a replacement the moment the wife dies,” she says.
This gets compounded where the woman feels as if the man is with her for the money.
Take the late Wambui Otieno and Peter Mbugua. Mbugua became the talk of the town when he married Wambui in 2003. He was 25 and Wambui was 67. Their age gap was 42 years! Popular opinion was that Mbugua who worked as a stonemason had married Wambui for the money.
In 2011, the couple held their church wedding but unfortunately, Wambui died on August 30 2011. She was buried at her farm in Upper Matasia, Ngong. Following her death, a battle over her property erupted.
According to the will she left behind, Wambui distributed her wealth which includes cars, houses and money among her 10 children and eight grandchildren.
She gave her home in Karen to her daughter Gladwell Otieno and sons Jairus Ougo and Fredrick Munyua. She then left Mbugua an old, clanky Toyota G Touring. An incensed Mbugua petitioned the court to award him a Toyota Harrier which Wambui had bought. In April 2019, Mbugua remarried.
At the time of the marriage, he had three children with his bride. During the wedding ceremony for his second marriage at the Christina Foundation Fellowship, Mbugua said that he was free to marry since his first wife had died. “The law allows me to remarry after the death of my spouse. The first marriage certificate is no longer binding,” he said.
No relatives from his first wife’s family attended the wedding. Perhaps, the bad blood between Mbugua and Wambui’s beneficiaries was betrayed by his admission that he had never visited Wambui’s grave since she passed away.
According to Esther Masanyangila, an Advocate of the High Court and the founding and managing partner of Masanyangila & Associates Advocates, where a woman omits her husband from the list of her beneficiaries, the husband can petition the court.
However, the success of such a petition will mainly depend on whether the husband was truly dependent on the wife or not.
“The petition will not supersede the actual will left behind by the wife. But in as much as the will stands, the husband can ask the court to consider him and allocate a small portion if he can show proof that he was entirely dependent on his wife,” says Esther.
Such a petition will be based on Section 29 of the law of Succession Act. “If there is proof, the court will provide for him and ensure that he benefits from his deceased wife’s estate,” she says.
Transmission of property left behind by wives to husbands has also often been contested, especially if the wife was holding such property in trust for her sisters or brothers.
After the death of late Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso in July 2019, her widower Edwin Abonyo proposed a list of properties he and Joyce jointly owned. He then filed an application before the Family Division of the High Court in Milimani.
In the application, Abonyo sought an order to be the administrator of the estate he and Joyce owned. He also sought a limited grant for substituting Laboso’s name with his. He listed land in Karen, Kericho, South Sotik and Kisumu, a townhouse along Kilimani Road, a house in Kericho and some 275 shares in Kenya Grain Growers Co-operative Union as Laboso’s property.
Also listed were a house in Nakuru, a residential plot in Bomet, KCB shares, Sinendet Multipurpose Cooperative Society, shares in Parliament Sacco, Egerton University Pension Scheme, Imarisha Sacco, Cooperative Bank account, KCB account, Cooperative Bank Visa card, Barclays multi-currency prepaid card, a vehicle and shares at Itibo Limited.
On June 10, 2020, he received the order to administer the estate from High Court Judge Aggrey Muchelule.
This drew the ire of his sisters-in-law. The sisters, Mary Chepkurui and Judy Cheptoo, contested that Abonyo had cunningly included the estate of their late mother Rebecca Laboso.
Abonyo however said that the properties were being administered by his late wife and were a matter of succession.
“I am aware that the deceased was a co-administrator in the estate of the late Rebecca Laboso and a beneficiary in the estate of her late mother therefore the need to include her share of the assets in the instant succession suit which assets brought about the protest,” he said.
According to Judy, though the confirmation of grant for the late Joyce to administer her mother’s estate had been made, the properties were yet to be given to their respective beneficiaries.
These properties included a 180-acre land in Sotik, shares held at Itibo Limited, which Mary and Laboso held in trust for Judy and their bother David, shares at the Kenya Grain Growers Cooperative Union, 2,480 shares at Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and shares at Sinendet Multipurpose Cooperative Union, which Laboso held in trust for all beneficiaries of their mother’s estate. Others were land in Kericho town and a residential house in Sotik.
In May 2021, Abonyo expunged the contested properties that belonged to his mother in law from the inheritance list.
In the new list, Abonyo named a residential property in Karen, a town house in Kilimani, properties in Kisumu and Nakuru, shares at Parliament Sacco and Egerton University. He stated in the affidavit that he would divide these among his sons.
He also stated that he would give two vehicles to his sons. Laboso’s sisters said that they did not object to Abonyo taking the money in their late sister’s accounts at KCB, Equity, Co-operative Bank and Absa Kenya as well as land in Kisumu and Nakuru.
Although most men are bothered when their wives appear to be making more money than them, many are not as concerned about their wives’ secret stash.
According to a study of 6,000 married men over a 15-year course by the University of Bath, UK, men get anxious when their wives earn up to 40 per cent of the household income. They then become very uncomfortable if their wives’ income rises above their income. They get depressed if they become entirely economically dependent on their wives.
However, men do not want to be the sole breadwinners. The study says that men will be at their most anxious when they are left with the responsibility of family finances. They will be happy and comfortable if the wife brings something on the table.
“Social norms about male bread-winning and traditional conventions about men earning more than their women can be dangerous for men’s health,” said Dr. Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University of Bath’s School of Management. These psychological stressors are prevalent where the woman’s income starts growing after marriage.
“Men do not suffer psychological distress about their wives’ income if the income was higher than theirs before the marriage, and the income and potential future income raise were clearly explained,” the study says.
Ephantus Ndirangu echoes this by saying that he wouldn’t be bothered if his wife accumulated wealth as long as he knows that his children will benefit from it.
For him, the bottom line is that the benefits of such wealth and the will the wife leaves behind ends up to the benefit of his kids. His sentiments are echoed by Josh Odhiambo who works as a construction engineer.
“My wife is a senior director at a local bank. I recently saw secret documents that she has some secret assets. This doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, I am more confident that the future of this family is well taken off even in my absence,” he says.
Josh, 42, adds that as a man, he has come to admire his wife since he found out that she has been developing herself on the side.
“I would be more worried if she had nothing to show for it despite her long career,” he says. According to Munyua, most men prefer the stability of their kids that comes with a woman’s ability to earn, invest, and accumulate wealth, even if this is done in secret.
“Most men are aware that it is a woman’s nature to be secretive. They overlook this because the secret accumulation of assets and the listing of her mother as an administrator means that the woman can look after the family,” he says.
However, Munyua says that these secret investments and secret wills are also influenced by the type of relationship the wife has with her husband.
“In more stable relationships where a high level of honesty is practiced, and the woman has confidence in her man’s financial decisions, it is likely that she will reveal having an estate or a will,” he says.
The number of women who select their mothers, sisters and children as beneficiaries must rise even further with the anticipated passing of the Children (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
This Bill is seeking to amend Section 24 of the Children Act of 2001 and will make it mandatory for parents to foot the upkeep costs of children equally regardless of whether they are married or not.
According to sociologist Johnstone Miriti, if and when the Bill becomes law, there will be a heightened need for women to secure their children’s welfare. “It is highly likely that more women will be more conscious about the future of their children without factoring in the father’s contribution,” he says.
“Regardless of marital status, the woman will become aware that the father can use the law to escape financial responsibility, and will take precaution to safeguard her kids’ welfare through a secret will or external trustee.”
A version of this feature was also published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.