Three months before his death on December 16, 2005, Kiambu tycoon Maurice Marie Guillaume De Brouwer wrote a will detailing how he wished his wealth was distributed upon his demise.
In his wish list, he included his widow Regina Njeri de Brouwer, four children, and a niece as beneficiaries of his assets in Kenya including prime parcels of land in the lush Tigoni area. The deceased also had properties in Switzerland, Belgium, and France, which were not covered in his written will.
But 16 years after Mr De Brouwer’s death, his widow is yet to sign off documents that would have allowed the executors of the will to transfer the late tycoon’s wealth to her and the other beneficiaries---highlighting the rising complications of asset distribution in inheritance.
The case adds to the long list of succession fights in court that have delayed distribution of the estates worth more than Sh500 billion. The cases are a result of fall-outs within families.
Among prominent succession cases in court include the estate of city tycoon and former Starehe MP Gerishon Kirima, former Transport Minister John Michuki, spy chief James Kanyotu, former minister Mbiyu Koinange and slain politician Josiah Mwangi (JM) Kariuki.
Others include the family of the late Nakuru MP Dickson Kihika Kimani , former Cabinet Minister Joseph Kamotho and late former politician Kenneth Matiba.
The majority of the assets affected by the conflicts are held in land, real estate, pension funds, savings in saccos, and cash.
As a result of the legal disputes, the beneficiaries of the estates are yet to gain from the properties they were supposed to inherit. An estimated Sh0.5 trillion is at the centre of the inheritance disputes between relatives of the prominent multimillionaires who left a legacy of successful business empires.
In the Kihika family feud, Sh600 million worth of inheritance remains at stake following a dispute that began in 2004, a year after Kihika died leaving behind eight widows and 47 children.
The cast in the Koinange drama includes four women who have been battling for control of his estate estimated to be worth Sh17.1 billion. Mr Koinange died in September 1981, leaving behind massive tracts of land in Nairobi, Mombasa, Mau Narok, Nakuru and Kiambu. For Mr Kanyotu, his death in February 2008 triggered a scramble his wealth with four women engaged in a vicious battle for control of the spy master’s estate estimated at Sh20 billion.
The Kirima succession case involves three wives, each wanting a say in the man’s Sh750 million real estate empire. In the case of Kamotho, who died on December 6, 2014 in a hospital in South Africa, his family is fighting over his Sh250million estate.
In the latest succession row handled by the High Court, Njeri de Brouwer now stands to forfeit inheritance assets worth more than Sh100 million after the High Court ruled that her silence and inaction amounted to disinterest in receiving her share of the heirloom.
Among the inherited wealth she is set to lose are three prime pieces of land located in Tigoni Kiambu, which she had been bequeathed life interest, and Euros 651,390 (Sh84, 419,142).
The money will be forwarded by the administrators of the tycoon’s estate to the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority (UFAA), a government agency.
She had been given a life interest in one of the Tigoni lands on the condition that she resides, maintains, and insures the said property.
However, she failed to comply with this condition as her whereabouts are unknown though the court heard that she may have relocated to Belgium.
The impending loss of the widow’s share of inheritance stems from a court judgement which has declared that as a result of her absence and non-cooperation with executors, she has forfeited her interest in the land parcels.
Family court judge Maureen Odero permitted the personal representatives of the tycoon’s estate, Marie Elizabeth Christiane Adelaide De Brouwer (his daughter) and lawyer Guy Spencer Elms, to sell the property per the written will that is dated September 13, 2005.
The court found that the widow’s failure to comply with a condition given by the late tycoon -that she maintain and insure the property - her life interest in the said property has been extinguished.
The widow refused and declined to sign a document to transfer ownership of the property from the personal representatives of the estate to herself as a beneficiary.
The signing was to facilitate the transfer of the Tigoni properties into her name, but her refusal made it impossible for the Administrators to conclude the distribution of the estate per the written will left by the tycoon.
In the same will, she was to acquire a life interest in one of the land parcels on condition that she continued to reside there. However, she no longer lives on the property and her current whereabouts are not known.
The tycoon had also bequeathed the widow and her niece, Wairimu De Brouwer, a sum of 325,695 Euros each. The executors of the will have been unable to effect these bequests because the two beneficiaries cannot be tracked.
They have remained incommunicado for over 16 years making it impossible for the executors of the Will to conclude the administration of the estate.
“Efforts to complete distribution of the estate of the deceased have been frustrated by the non-availability and non-cooperation by the respondents who are the beneficiaries,” the executors.
The court heard that by their actions, the widow and her niece should be deemed to have forfeited their interest in the assets which had been bequeathed to them.
The gifts made to all the other beneficiaries had been effected and all that remains outstanding are those given to the widow and her niece.
Efforts to trace the widow and her niece were unsuccessful though they are believed to have relocated to Belgium. The administrators have been unable to trace the Respondents so as to deliver the funds to them.
Lawyer Elms told the court that the tycoon was in the company of his wife (Regina) when he gave him instructions to prepare the will.
“Regina was fully aware that her husband had left a written Will. Yet she has made no effort to reach out to the Advocate to discuss the estate of her late husband,” said Mr Elms.
The widow and her niece were initially being represented by lawyer Kamau Kuria, Senior Counsel, who on May 18, 2013, obtained orders to cease acting for them. Dr Kuria informed the court that he had been unable to trace his client to take instructions in the matter.
The court case was also advertised through the Daily Nation in March 2022 but the advert elicited no response from the Respondents.
“I do believe that a relative of the respondents who saw the advert would have alerted her to the same,” said Justice Odero.
Declaring that the widow and the niece have forfeited their interest in the wealth, the judge also found that the two beneficiaries did not provide any bank details to which the funds can be sent.
“The funds cannot be held indefinitely. I direct that the administrators forward the said funds to the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority,” said Justice Odero.
“The Administrators have been unable to conduct the distribution of this estate in accordance with the wishes of the deceased as set out in his written will due to lack of communication and co-operation by the respondents. The estate cannot be held in limbo indefinitely. I find that by her actions the beneficiary Regina de Brouwer has forfeited her interest in the properties bequeathed to her,” added the judge.
To bring finality to this matter, the judge found that the estate ought to be distributed and the “executors cannot be held at ransom by the respondents who apparently have no interest in claiming/receiving their share of the estate”.