Africans should stop being superstitious and write their wills


. As Africans, we believe that talking about death is like summoning it to yourself.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

It is considered un-African to talk about death. You know this as well as I do. As Africans, we believe that talking about death is like summoning it to yourself. You may as well be waving at it with both hands and saying, ‘Hey, hey! I’m right here! My house is down the road, the one with the green gate. Why don’t you knock at my door?’

Death would have been walking leisurely past, it was headed someplace else, to do something else (what else does death do when it's not taking souls?). But now that you have summoned it, it will shrug its shoulders and come hang its coat in your house.

Death will settle with a sigh into your weathered brown couch, the one that smells of everything you. You will serve it tea in your best stainless steel thermos, the one you bought back in the day from Nakumatt, the one that’s reserved for special guests.

Death will slurp loudly and ask, ‘Is this tea from those quaint tea factories down in Kapkatet?’ You will wink back with a sly smile because death knows its stuff. Ha-ha.

Anyway, as Africans, we avoid talking about death because we believe that talking about it hastens the day of our death. Not talking about it delays the day. When a child asks a parent about inheritance, they will be shushed with a scold, ‘Why do you want to kill me?!’

I don’t believe any of this. I believe that the day you will die – down to the minute and second – were written long before you even breathed your first breath. You cannot rewrite this date. Neither can you hasten nor delay it. You will die on the day you were fated to die. Period.

It is with this mind-set of avoidance that we Africans approach our funerals and succession. We don’t plan for our own funerals – whether we want to be buried or cremated, where we want to be buried, whether we can finance the cost of our own funerals. We leave these daunting tasks to the family and friends we will leave behind.

We are not in the business of writing wills, either – we don’t have a detailed written plan how we would like our estate to be inherited and distributed after we die.

Instead, we tell ourselves reassuring things like, ‘But I don’t own that much, anyway.’ Or, ‘I’m sure my family will know what to do with all my wealth.’ And also, ‘Surely, there is no reason why my mature and educated children will squabble over my property.’

You know better than this, dear reader. There have been countless stories in the newspapers and on TV about how families break apart while squabbling over the estate left by their dearly departed. Siblings turn against one another. Wives are cut off from their matrimonial property, mothers are disinherited by their own children. Grudges that will last a lifetime are forged in ugly court battles. Unreasonable traditional laws threaten to supersede succession laws.

And emotions, my goodness, emotions fuel the inferno that burns down this village you once called a loving familial community. If your dearly departed were to wake up from the grave and see the village burning down, they would ask for the clock to be turned back so they can be given a second chance to do it better.

This is your chance to do it better, dear reader. Starting at this moment. Organise your personal finances so you can pay for your own funeral. Also organise them for the smooth succession of your estate. You will appreciate the wisdom in this foresight once you put aside the morbidity of these unsettling thoughts.

Next week, I want you to do two things: I want you to call an insurance company and ask about their funeral covers. You stay put, they will send their best agent over to you. For as little as Sh7,000 a year you can get a funeral cover with a benefit of Sh400,000.

That’s enough to pay for your funeral, yes? For a little extra money, you can even get a family cover that includes your parents and in-laws in the benefits. Perhaps even with a cash pay-out.

I also want you to find a lawyer and ask them about writing your will. Writing a will is an uphill task because you will have to list down everything you owe and own – your assets and liabilities – and find the documents to show legal ownership.

You must show title deeds for your lands and houses, logbooks for your motor vehicles, certificates for your insurance policies, contracts for loans etc. Lawyers charge anything between Sh20,000 and Sh100,000 to draft your will. They also execute it after you die.

Florence Bett is an author of the book ‘Should I? Your questions about money’. @_craftit; [email protected]