A widow and children of a former powerful provincial commissioner have asked a judge to revoke two wills and distribute an estate worth at least Sh5 billion to the beneficiaries when the High Court determines the matter next week.
The property of the late Charles Karuga Koinange — situated in places as diverse as Nairobi, Embu, Kiambu and the Coast — includes vast farms under tea and coffee, rental houses, companies, stocks and millions of shillings held in various banks in Kenya.
Lawyer Ashford Mugwuku Muriuki, for the administrators of the estate and six petitioners, told Mr Justice Luka Kimaru that two wills — made in May 8, 1975, and June 16, 1999 — are invalid, after questions were raised on the mental status of the provincial administrator.
Mr Koinange, a one-time senior chief who died in 2004, was a brother of the former powerful minister in the Jomo Kenyatta government, the late Mbiyu Koinange — whose family is involved in a separate, 34-year legal battle over his estate.
Lawyer Muriuki told Justice Kimaru that he had been involved in the dispute for several years and the administrators and the siblings of the deceased had made some concessions on some property.
However, he faulted the will of 1999, saying it was invalid since it apparently recognises only a former Permanent Secretary, Dr Wilfred Karuga Koinange, who has since died, as the beneficiary out of 13 children.
“This case has been pending for almost 30 years in court, but the issues can be resolved if the children and the widow agree on the distribution,” Mr Muriuki said.
Those appointed as administrators of the estate are William Kihara, Peter Mbiyu Karuga Koinange, Mary Wanjira and Isabella Wanjiku.
The administrators and the petitioners asking the court to distribute the property intestate are Leonard Kang’ethe, Susan Mbiyu, Jane Wambui, Rosemary Gachuku Mugo, Ernest Ngugi Karuga and Marion Wambui.
Mr Muriuki and two other lawyers — Dr John Khaminwa for the widow, and Dr Gibson Kamau Kuria for the family of the former PS — have each advanced various legal positions on the wills.
While the administrators and petitioners are asking the court to cancel them, widow Mary Njoki Karuga supports the one drawn up on May 8, 1975.
But Dr Koinange (deceased), now represented by his widow Dr Rosemary Koinange, supports the 1999 will.
Dr Khaminwa told the judge that Mr Muriuki had volunteered some crucial information regarding the 1999 will prepared by the law firm Kaplan & Stratton.
He told Justice Kimaru: “The laws practised in court require that at least two witnesses need to be called to ascertain something is true,” but nobody had come forth.”
Mr Muriuki identified 13 beneficiaries of the estate of the deceased.
They say in a sworn affidavit to the court that their father “was incapacitated by serious mental ill-health complicated by advanced old age and diabetes, thereby rendering the purported will invalid, null and void,”
“It is true our father did not have the requisite capacity to make the will (in June 1999) at the time,” they say.
Mr Muriuki produced a medical report by Dr F.G Njenga dated January 5, 1998, and another by Dr S.M.G Mwinzi dated May 21, 2001, confirming that the deceased “was not in a sound state of mind to be able to make a will at the time he is alleged to have made the June 16, 1999, one”.
The judge heard that the former provincial administrator was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease — an incurable illness.
“The disease had totally impaired all aspects of Charles Karuga’s cognitive functions, including speech, language, memory, orientation etc,” the judge heard from Mr Muriuki.
He added that Justice Erastus Githinji, then serving at the High Court, noted in 1989 that “he was making inaudible comments when he was escorted to court by a woman who supported him”.
The judge then appointed Dr Wilfred Karuga Koinange, who has also since died, as a guardian.
Of the 1999 will, the family says, “It is inconceivable and illogical that the executors of the will did not know the true extent, nature and assets of the … estate, if indeed the deceased ably instructed and or furnished full instructions and or understood what he was doing and or the contents of the will.”
Justice Kimaru will decide January 20 whether to cancel the two wills.