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Real estate tycoons moot ways to tame succession battles

By Mwangi Muiruri | April 16th 2020

After straining for the better part of their productive lives to accumulate wealth in the form of mega buildings and huge parcels of land, billionaire patriarchs still have worries.

A major worry among them has been sustaining their legacies and inheritance after their sunset years. Most of their estates end up attracting protracted tussles - with some ending up in courts for arbitration.

In some instances, the said properties end up in the hands of trustees who plunder them - driving the intended beneficiaries into abject poverty.

Joseph Kaguthi, a veteran administrator says: “Prominent worry that haunts many of us in wealthy club’s investments is how we will be succeeded once in the fullness of time we are seen no more.”

He says the trend so far points to an acrimonious transition once dependants line up to inherit the estates left behind.

“If we were to be honest, there is that nagging fear of how safe our investments will be once we are no more. We are told that we should write wills to manage that transition, yet, even those wills are being challenged in courts.”

After witnessing a litany of acrimonious succession battles in the recent past, Kaguthi says most tycoons have formed common platforms “where they exchange ideas on how to guarantee themselves peace ‘in the graves’ beyond the control of their wealth”.

The method unanimously agreed on, he noted, is “leaving solid wills, making honest declarations especially on spouses and children out of wedlock and counselling our children on the gains of peaceful successions”.

“There is no greater investment pain than to be alive witnessing what you single-handedly built through sacrifice and patience turning out to be fluid wealth being scrambled for by dependants,” he observed.

In a recent vernacular radio station, billionaire Chris Kirubi observed that “dependants who know the pain of hard work will know the shame of plunder”.

He said the toils of estate building must be respected and “all these litigations be settled amicably where good faith is the guiding light”.

Talking on the highly guarded topic, the business mogul noted that inheritance and building of estates are Siamese twins that both have to survive after death that acts as the surgery to separate them.

“We cannot tell an investor to cease building wealth since there is uncertainty ahead in the form of inheritance worries…As long as you do your best to distribute your wealth to the dependants, using the fairest method and ratio possible, you will have no control of what else might ensue. But I would urge peaceful transition of estates to dependants,” he said.

Ms Lizzie Wanyoike, the entrepreneur behind Nairobi Institute of Business and Technical Studies (NIBS-TC) and owner of the Kilimani-based Emory Hotel says wills no longer guarantee the sustainability of investments.

“Dependants out to fight over inheritance will forever find a thousand and one issues to pick on in litigation. It can be based on equitability in how that inheritance was allocated to married daughters coming in to claim their share in the investments,” she says.

“The best way to settle this fear is by way of making those children part of the management and leave the rest to God.”

She says she has inducted her three children into managerial levels of her investments so that they can be part and parcel of day-to-day realities of building wealth.

“Such that, once that wealth will be placed in their hands, they will be in a position to understand the need to progress my legacy into the future. The other thing is to try and bond the children so that they can develop that mutual respect among themselves. Finally, you aspire to be very fair to all in the will where all will be deemed to have an equal share,” she says.

The lawyer notes that placing investments into the hands of trustees to manage them on behalf of dependants creates a wedge between the successors and the trustees due to lack of mutual bond.

It is in that line that President Uhuru Kenyatta — the scion of the super-rich founding father of the nation — recently cautioned departed tycoons’ children against property legal tussles, saying they are a shame to the departed and friends left behind.

Speaking at the funeral service of the oil baron from Murang’a County who died recently, Thayu Kabugi, the Head of State said assembling an estate worth billions of shillings was not a simple task.

It takes lots of suffering, toiling and denying oneself the trappings of comfort, he noted.

The president said those tussles “in nearly all instances” are bred by greed and self-centred competitions within those families.

“But we are seeing a situation whereby families of these icons of our economy go after each other’s throats days after the demise of their relative. That is not the way to go and I would urge all families to desist from such tussles,” he said.

“These court battles are bad publicity for both the families and their businesses. It is not the best way to appreciate the hard work of those patriarchs who built these empires and my take is that most of these battles are as a result of greed and lack of mutual respect in these families.”

According to advocate Wanjiku Maina, the worst legal tussles occur when the owner of the estate dies without leaving a will. “This means that what to apply is intestate succession — where a person dies without having made a will or the will is invalidated,” she says.

She warns that “it is only a cohesive family that exercises mutual respect that can afford successions that are free from court and social drama”.

Wanjiku says in search of the best formulae to share out the estate, litigations occur “especially in a situation where there are some who seek to sneak in cheek and vile to grab bigger shares or even short-change others”.

She says in good faith of the spirit and letter of succession laws, surviving spouse and children (and in other cases, outsiders and charity foundations) are entitled to a fair share of the estate.

“This is where there is a valid written or oral will. But where there is no will, a court of law can determine the share-out ratios,” she says.

She advocates for wills made in good faith and within the law, to enable the smooth transition of estate administration. “If you die without a will, there will be no guarantee of peace in your family. You will leave complications, delays and extra costs for those you leave behind. If you die without having written a will and you don’t have any relatives, your estate will go to the government,” she cautions.

Former Starehe MP Gerishon Kirima is one of the Murang’a tycoons whose heirs have been fighting over his wealth.

Anne, Kirima’s daughter whose estate was recently embroiled in a vicious court battle before all parties finally agreed amicably on how to share out the spoils, told Home & Away that “family property tussles are painful”.

She said at all costs, the feuds should be avoided and a peaceful formula devised to keep family matters away from the bruising litigations and bad press.

“We are happy that our case took less time than we expected. Some (cases) have spilt to over 35 years. We want to tell Kenyans that it is possible to share out property peacefully…Our fight was painstaking and we want to assure all that never again will the Kirima family show up in press fighting,” she said.

George Ngugi who is the late Njenga Karume’s estate manager roots for an amicable solution to estate administration among families.

He says court cases consume valuable cash and time that would have benefited the pulse of the beneficiaries. One of the accusations made against Mr Ngugi by Karume’s kin is that his team of trustees has run down the family assets whose value had shrunk significantly from the initially estimated Sh40 billion.

Lawyer Geoffrey Kahuthu says the trend of shrinking assets is common for properties managed by trustees or estate administrators, noting that whenever the differences between them and the beneficiaries end up in court, judges usually freeze all business transactions hence transforming the supposedly rich beneficiaries to squalor status.

Another one is the businessman and founder chief executive officer of Equity Bank, John Kagema, who died in December 2018. He was the owner of the luxurious Enashipai Resort and Spa in Naivasha.

Among some of the properties that Mr Kagema’s widows and children are fighting for include 21 companies, an insurance policy, at least 118 plots of land across the country, a mining company, and a fleet of motor vehicles.

Even the late no non-sense Minister John Michuki has not been spared. Towards the end of 2018, one of his daughters moved to court blaming her two siblings who were given powers by the High Court to administer the estate of having accumulated huge debts at Nairobi Hotels Ltd, which owns a big share of the Windsor Golf Hotels and Country Club.  

Among the eminent families currently tussling for properties are those of the late Njenga Karume and the late Vice President Kijana Wamalwa.

Others are children of the late Hezbone Shimei Nyong’o - the father to Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o.

Others are former Makueni MP and prominent judge Jackson Mulwa and children of billionaire businessman James Mwangi Kirung’o who owned K1 Club House. Too, Children of Garissa tycoon Mahat Kuno Roba is also in a vicious tussle for the control of the landmark Almond Resort, a Garissa-based hotel. Another Murang’a family that has dominated succession battles is that of Samuel Kanogo Ritho.

His children battled to an extent of suspicions being raised that their mother who had been named as next of kin their wrath to let go of the administration rights of the estate valued at Sh3 billion.

Currently, the last born of former Internal Security (Interior) Minister John Michuki is in court seeking to get a sixth of his estate. Ms Yvonne Wanja in court prayers states that her late father’s estate has not been valued to date, adding that the administrators and beneficiaries of the estate estimated to be worth 65 billion should be reconciled since they are not at loggerheads.  

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