Understanding the Law
December 6, 2013
Avoiding squabbles among siblings

In our country, there are always cases in courts involving contests among family members over land issues. When it is not in relation to possessory titles, it is over the undistributed property. In most cases, the reason is because the parents failed to distribute property during their lifetime or to make a will that would guide the sharing of the property after death. Disputes arise over who should lead the papers for administration to distribute the property. Some members even refuse to give consent to the administration of the property.{{more}} In some instances, the children at home in SVG feel that they should own the property since they took care of the parents, while those overseas believe that they should inherit the property, because they supported their parents financially during the parents’ lifetime.

These beliefs are not generally grounded in any legal principle and are not given any consideration in the administration of estate. The law requires every sibling to benefit equally from any property distribution under laws of administration. One of the siblings must be chosen to lead letters of administration to distribute the land if there is no surviving spouse. The surviving spouse has priority to apply, but a beneficiary could do so. All names of the siblings must be given in the oath and their birth certificates must be included and filed with the court.

A beneficiary can object to the person leading the grant by filing a caveat with the court requesting that no grant of administration be sealed unless a hearing is given to him or her (the caveator). This would give the caveator some time to make inquiries and present his grounds for the caveat. The caveator could pay a small fee to examine the file at the probate section at the High Court. The caveat is effective for six months and could be renewed by giving one month’s notice before the it expires. The Registrar would give notice to the applicant of the caveat and the applicant could warn the caveat by requiring the caveator to appear in court within eight days, including the day of service, to set out the nature of his interest. If the caveator fails to appear before the court then the registrar could continue with the application.

The above shows that there could be considerable delays and squabbles; hence, my advice to all parents is to make it easy for their children by making a will — even a simple one will do to avoid anger and bitterness among siblings. A parent’s wishes would be carried out in a meaningful way, because gifts must be distributed in accordance with the will. With the administration of an estate, there is an equitable distribution and the wishes of the parents are not observed because they are not known. A parent might want to reward a faithful and loyal child or a special needs child with a larger portion of the estate or there might be gifts that would be more suited to particular children. It is only the giver who could make the special association with gift and receiver. It is the maker of the will who could reward the faithful nurse or helper or distant relative. The will could also be a source of anger, but then it conveys the wishes of the giver and there is nothing that the beneficiaries can do about the gifts.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

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