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Widow's Sh84m, prime properties lying unclaimed for over 17 years

 Family Court judge Maureen Odero directed executors to transfer money to the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority. [Boniface Thuku, Standard]

Where could two heirs to the fortunes of a Belgian who died in Nairobi in 2005 be?

The whereabouts of Regina Njeri, the widow of Maurice Marie, remain unknown since 2006, a year after a succession case was filed.

Mr Marie died in Nairobi on December 16, 2005, and left a will, detailing how his wealth should be distributed.

He listed his two daughters Marie Elizabeth, Isabelle Marie Thodore, his sons Guillaume Marie and Harrold Marie, and the widow Njeri and her niece Wairimu as his family.

Court records show the deceased had other properties in Switzerland, Belgium and France. He, however, did not list these in his will. The court allowed the executors; Elizabeth and Guy Elms Spencer to manage the foreign properties.

Marie, in his will dated September 13, 2005, had bequeathed Njeri two properties at Tigoni, Kiambu County. However, for 17 years Njeri has not shown interest in inheriting this wealth.

The executors told the court that she had refused to sign documents that would enable them to transfer the properties to her.

Family Court judge Maureen Odero heard that Marie in his will directed that Njeri was to get a third property in Tigoni but on condition that she continued to live there.

However, Njeri no longer lives on the property and her whereabouts remain unknown.

Marie also left Sh 84 million in cash for Njeri and her niece Wairimu.

However, according to court records, the two cannot be traced.

Elizabeth and Spencer told the court that they have for years tried to trace the two but in vain.

They said advertisements in the newspapers had yielded nothing.

The executors lamented that it was impossible to conclude the succession as the two were unavailable to sign the papers.

Despite the succession case filed in 2005 lying in court for years, they have never replied to it.

The applicants urged the judge to find Njeri and Wairimu's actions amounted to disinterest in the assets they had been bequeathed.

In their prayers, the executors asked the court to allow the assets to be distributed to the remaining beneficiaries.

The court heard that Njeri and Wairimu might have relocated to Belgium since efforts to trace them had hit a dead end.

In his affidavit, Spencer told the court that Marie gave instructions on how his wealth would be shared after his death in the presence of Njeri.

According to him, she was fully aware that her husband had left a will that guaranteed her a share of his wealth. However, she made no effort to reach out to him to discuss her late husband's wealth.

Dr Kamau Kuria initially represented Njeri and Wairimu in the succession case. However, the senior lawyer later withdrew from the case stating that he was unable to trace his clients in order to take instructions from them.

Following the senior lawyer's withdrawal, the court ordered Elizabeth and Spencer to place an advertisement in any newspaper inviting the two to show up. The executors placed an advert in the Daily Nation on March 22 this year.

However, there was no response.

Justice Odero said that following the advertisement, Njeri and Wairimu's relatives must have either come across it and would have informed her that she needed to move and inherit her husband's wealth.

"I do believe that a relative of the respondents who saw the advert would have alerted her on the same. The respondents have been incommunicado since 2006 a period of 16 years. They have made no attempt to reach out to the executors in order to settle the estate of the deceased," observed Justice Odero.

The judge noted that Njeri had been gifted a property which she ought to have maintained and lived in. However, she failed to comply.

According to the judge, this resulted in her forfeiting her life interest in the property.

She said: "The first respondent (Njeri) was bequeathed a life interest in LR No.9495/1 Tigoni on condition that she maintained and insured the said property. he has failed to comply with this condition. Therefore her life interest in the said property extinguishes."

At the same time, the judge directed the executors should transfer the money to the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority.

According to her, there were no known bank details that would enable Elizabeth and Spencer to transfer the money to Njeri and Wairimu. At the same time, the two could not be traced to be handed hard cash.

"The said beneficiaries did not provide any bank details to which these 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," directed Justice Odero.

The judge said Njeri's lack of communication and cooperation amounted to holding the entire estate to uncertainty.

The judge said that Njeri's actions were an indication that she was not interested in the properties bequeathed to her.

She ruled: " In order to bring finality to this matter, I find that the estate of the deceased ought to be distributed. The executors cannot be held to ransom by the respondents who apparently have no interest in claiming or receiving their share of the estate. 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."

She directed that the third property at Tigoni should be sold as Marie had ordered in his will. At the same time, the judge allowed the executors to distribute the remaining two properties that had been left for Njeri. However, if the two may in future want to claim the money, then, they will find it at the unclaimed finances agency.

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