|Death certificates are the new lottery tickets that have seen insurance firms lose millions and families locked in confrontations over property. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]|
By Mark Kapchanga
Obtaining a death certificate without the requisite documents is a walk in the park. But it is also the nightmare that confronts insurance and inheritance lawyers who have lost millions to scammers.
Death certificates are the new lottery tickets that have seen insurance firms lose millions and families locked in confrontation over property obtained through a fraudulent death certificate.
What you can do with a death certificate is any Government and lawyer’s nightmare and for Sh15,000 you can walk out with one and obtain your siblings inheritance or obtain cash through insurance claim.
You only need to oil the hands of the people in-charge of registration of deaths.
Traditionally, to acquire a death certificate, a medical practitioner who attended to the person during his last illness must sign a certificate stating to the best of his knowledge and belief the cause of death.
This was, however, not the case last week when The Standard acquired a death certificate. Through a text message, I was asked to send the name of the deceased, date of death, the cause of death as well as the place where the death occurred.
After more than two weeks of up and down at Sheria House, an agent, supposedly working for the person in-charge of death registration, said that the “boss” needed a letter from the “deceased’s” local chief to confirm the death and issue the document. I did not have a burial permit, which is required.
At some point the agent told me that the entire amount, Sh15,000 would be refunded if I could produce the letter. But after a long persuasion, the agent said: “Boss amekubali. Ongeza shilingi mia tano before lunchtime”.
After the Sh500 demand was paid the death certificate was printed, and delivered at The Standard Group Centre on Mombasa Road. I was legally dead.
In the entire process, mobile money transfer, the most common mode of payment in the country today, was not permitted.
“It is a safe way of concealing questionable transactions. Hard cash means less evidence in case a problem arises,” the source said.
The failure by a registrar of deaths to demand requisite documents before issuing a death certificate has seen crooks flooding even in the administration of property. Lawyers say cases of ageing parents being defrauded by their children and spouses is on the rise, especially in polygamous families.
It involves cases where the fraudsters “kill” their parents, with intent to administer their property. With or without a will, the cons make formal application to the courts to be granted probate. This is the first step in the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person’s property under a will.
For it to be valid, a petition, affidavit, a will and a death certificate has to be supplied. “A probate court decides the legal validity of a testator’s will and grants its approval by granting probate to the executor. The probated will becomes a legal document that may be enforced by the executor in the law courts if necessary,” said Nabutola Wanjala, an advocate of the High Court.
Where there is no will, an application for a letter of administration is made. In this case, a petition, affidavit, affidavit of means and a death certificate must be produced. According to the law, a maximum of four people, mainly a spouse, children or a closest relative, are allowed to file an application.
“With a fake death certificate, hundreds of property owners risk losing their treasures to crooks,” said Nixon Nzioka, a Mombasa-based lawyer.
Legal analysts believe that death certificates are being used to claim ownership of land of people still alive and then transferred from the “deceased” to fraudsters.
Families are known to have gone to court to try and reclaim property that has been fraudulently acquired from family members still alive but presumed dead after a fake death certificate was issued and the property disbursed by an illegal administrator.
In addition, cases of death certificate fraud are on the rise. A 32-year-old man created bogus death certificates, bought a burial plot, buried an empty casket and staged a deceptive funeral to lend credibility to an insurance fraud scheme.
The man, with his two other accomplices, purchased insurance policies for non-existent people, killed them off on paper and then staged their funerals.
An insurance firm began investigating the claims, which saw the cartel exhume a casket filled with a dummy body and cow parts. They had prepared fake invoices claiming that the fake funeral was held at three different mortuaries; and two companies advanced costs to cover the phony funeral, according to prosecutors.