A will or testament in Cameroon is a legal document that expresses a person’s (usually referred to as the testator) wishes as regards how his/her property (usually referred to as the estate) is to be distributed after their death and how the property should be managed by a person (usually referred to as the executor) until finally distributed.
A will or testament in Cameroon can be contested or uncontested.
It was initially thought that a will applied only to real property while a testament applied only to personal property hence giving the connotation of “Last will’. A will in Cameroon may also create a testamentary trust that will be effective only after the death of the testator.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITING A WILL IN CAMEROON?
Many people become skeptical when they think of writing a will. This is because they usually face the fear of the presumption of death. Hence they perceive the task of writing a will as a notion of them to die soon. The following aspects of the importance to write a will in Cameroon rather show that it is healthier for the testator to do so.
- A will protects your family: a will provides transparency on how your assets must be managed and allotted. It also protects the minor children of the testator as a guardian may be appointed to manage the property of the minor till they attain maturity. It is also a crucial step to ensure that hard earned money, asset and belongings move towards the benefit of someone you love and trust.
- A will avoids family disputes: a well drafted will avoids disputes among family members. Its absence can lead to hostile relationships in the family.
- A will saves time and money: when a valid will does not exist, the process in court can be cumbersome to appoint a personal representative especially in an atmosphere of family disagreements. This will off course cost time and money.
- A will helps to document a guardian for your minor children: due to the uncertainty which exist in life, a sudden demise of a parent can cause hardship of the minor children. It is therefore necessary for a parent to be proactive. Choosing a caretaker for your children in your Will, will help the children in your absence as the probability will be that the parent will choose a responsible person to play such a role.
- A will helps to determine the person to manage your assets: the decision on who should manage your assets is one of the most important reasons to write a Will in Cameroon. This is because an executor is entrusted with numerous responsibilities under a valid Will.
- Funeral Arrangements (Last Wish): a Will enables the testator to instruct on the nature/conduct of his/her burial.
What is the difference between a last Will and a living Will?
With a last will, you choose who you want to inherit your property after you pass away. With a living will, you outline your preferences about future engagements in case you are unable to communicate your wishes to doctors and loved ones.
What is the difference between a Will and a Trust?
The main difference between a will and a trust is when they come into effect. A will comes into effect after the creator’s death whilst a living trust comes into effect immediately after it is created.
Wills and Codicil
A codicil is a supplementary part of a Will.
What are the considerations when making a will in Cameroon?
What are your assets? That is savings, investments and property owned by you and what is their value? The importance to properly analyze your assets and their values is because they may be some financial or tax planning which can be carried out as part of the Will making process.
Who do you want to benefit by your Will? This question is not as easy to respond as it sounds. But when the following matters come to mind such as;
- Could your spouse remarry and disinherit the children?
- Who should benefit if your spouse and children die together in an accident?
- What happens with children born out of wedlock?
- What rights do estranged children have?
- Executors, trustees and guardians
Who do you choose to carry out the terms/duties of your will? The spouse and children may be an obvious choice if they are adults. But what if they do not all get on together? The consideration of appointing an impartial or professional executor becomes necessary.
- Foreign property
Ownership of foreign property may necessitate certain engagements to be handled before heirship can take place. It may be important to establish a foreign Will just for the purpose of securing foreign property.
- The family business
The continuation of family business will depend on the security of transfer from generation to generation. Hence a Will can be used to ensure the smooth continuation and function of the family business over time.
- Division of estate
In as much as fairness among children is one of the precious values for parents, it doesn’t mean that their property will be shared among the children equally. Hence the need for a valid Will to be established to ensure the proper division of the estate according to the wishes of the parent.
- Inheritance tax
Certain provisions may need to be incorporated in a will in order to preserve the property from being used to pay off debts for the other spouse after death.
- Claims against the estate
Have you considered if there is anyone making a claim against your estate? Such a claim is likely to continue after your death. The following kinds of people may make claims on your estate even after your death;
- Civil partners
- Former spouses
- Those treated as children of the family
- Persons you may have made promises to and they relied on your promise to their detriment. They may have a claim under the doctrine of ‘proprietory estoppel’. An example is a child who worked without pay in the family business on the expectation of inheriting it etc.
A Will and Intestacy in Cameroon
A valid Will in Cameroon gives rise to testate succession whilst intestacy is the regime in which the property of the deceased is not covered by a valid will. Hence the distribution will be subject to different rules.
Capacity to make a Will in Cameroon
- Sound mind
A Will must be written by a person of sound mind. The soundness of his mind will be reflected in his knowledge to understand the nature of the act and the effect of the distribution by his Will.
The testator be 21 years of age to make a valid will except in exceptional circumstances like active military service.
- Absence of Undue Influence
The testator must have the ability to understand without any influence the nature and effect of the disposition in his Will. A Will subject to undue influence is considered null and void.
TYPES OF WILLS IN CAMEROON
- Living Will: A living will actually does a lot more than a traditional Last Will. A Living Will is good for end-of-life planning and to make your wishes known as concerns health care you may want in the future.
- Testamentary Trust Will: They are sometimes referred to as Will Trust or Trust Under Wills. They are written in a Will and can be used to direct asset distribution after your passing.
- Simple Will: These are Wills that do not contain a lot of clauses. However they are good for basic planning.
- Pour-Over Will: They work in conjunction with Revocable Living Trust. They are designed to offer more privacy than a regular Will and Testament and work by ‘pouring over’ any assets that don’t directly go to a Beneficiary into your Trust after you pass away.
- Joint Will: Joint Wills are a will within one document for two people. They can be used in cases where spouses want to initially make each other Beneficiaries after one person passes, and then establish final Beneficiaries being a child or children once both partners pass away.
- Holographic Will: Such Wills still occasionally exist. These are hand written Wills and are typically the result of extreme, unexpected circumstances such as war or another life-threatening situation.
- Nuncupative Will: They are verbal explanation that expresses final wishes.
- Deathbed Will: This is not a desirable Will for several reasons. They are not as effective as other types of Wills. They are made under dire circumstances and often raise the question of mental instability.
WHAT ARE THE CONTENT OF A VALID WILL
- It must be in writing
Every will must be in writing. This is to ensure that everything orally said by the testator is transmitted in permanent form through writing. The only exception to this rule is persons in active military service.
A written will must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses who will both sign at the same time as the testator. If the testator has no signature, a thumb print may suffice. If the testator is an illiterate, the legal prescription of the illiterate protection laws (Illiterate Jurat) must be observed in the Will duly signed by the interpreter.
The signature of the testator must be acknowledged in the presence of at least 2 witnesses who will both sign at the same time as the testator.
Can additions be made on an already signed Will?
Yes, any addition will take the form of marginal notes on the valid Will. However, the testator must sign next to each addition in the form of marginal notes.
WHO ARE THE BENEFICIARIES UNDER A WILL IN CAMEROON?
There extent of beneficiaries is dependent on who the testator decides should actually benefit under his Will. However, there are some persons who must be beneficiaries irrespective of the intention of the testator. They include;
- The surviving spouse
- The children of the deceased
- A person who depended on the deceased as a child of the family
HOW CAN YOU REVOKE/CANCEL YOUR WILL IN CAMEROON?
A will established in Cameroon can be revoked in the following circumstances;
- By the intentional destruction of the entire will.
- By the making a new Will or codicil.
- By the subsequent marriage of the testator.
Making a will in Cameroon will instead boost your mental health as there is no better way to be sure that your estate will be taken care of if not for a will.
It is however advisable for any interested person to solicit the services of a legal practitioner for proper guidance on the format of writing a Will under absolute confidentiality.