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A BENEFICIARY CAN CHOOSE TO RENOUNCE GIFT GIVEN IN A WILL

Dictum

Besides, it is well settled and recognized principle of law that a beneficiary under a will can renounce property devised or bequeathed to him by the will.

— S. Galadima, JCA. Jadesimi & Anor. v. Egbe (2003)

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ANYWHERE THE SIGNATURE APPEARS IN A WILL, IS VALID; POSITION OF SIGNATURE IS IMMATERIAL

As regards the contention that failure of the Testator to sign the Will at the right place invalidates the Will, I wish to refer to Section 4(1)(d) of the Wills Law (Supra) wherein the concluding part of the section states: “… but no form of attestation or publication shall be necessary”. Section 4 of Wills Law of Lagos State is in pari material with Section 9 of the English Administration of Justice Act, 1982 and the Authors of Williams on Wills at page 95 have interpreted the provision to mean ‘that there is no longer any formal requirement that the signature should be at the foot or end of the Will but in so long as it is apparent’ in the face of the Will that the Testator intended by his signature to give effect to the Will. It has been held that a Will is not invalidated simply because the Testator’s signature appears in the Attestation or Testimonium clause. See Re Moores Goods (1901) P.44. Therefore, the submission of counsel for the Appellants that the Will is unsigned because the attestation clause is blank is not tenable in so for as there is a signature by which the Testator intends to give effect to the writing signed as his Will. I think the Testator’s signature in the Will satisfies this requirement.

— J.I. Okoro, JCA. Mudasiru & Ors. v Abdullahi & Ors. (2011) – CA/L/58/2010

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WHERE DISPUTE AS TO WILL, ONUS IS ON PROPOUNDER OF WILL

Amu v Amu (2007) 7 NWLR (Pt.663) 164. At page 164, 170-171, and 174 of the report Aderemi J.C.A (as he then was) said as follows:- “Where there is a dispute as to a will, those who propounded it must clearly show by evidence that, prima facie, all is in order, that is to say that there has been due execution and that the testator had the necessary mental capacity, and was a free agent. Once they have satisfied the court, prima facie, as to these matters, it seems to me that the burden is then cast upon those who attack the will and that they are required to substantiate by evidence the allegation they have made as to lack of capacity, undue influence, and so forth. That it is clear to me, must be their responsibility and nothing can relieve them of it; it is not only a rule of common sense but a rule of law, as appears from numerous authorities.”

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PROPONENTS OF WILL HAS TO CLEAR THE COURT’S MIND OF SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES FIRST

Adebajo v Adebajo (1973) All NLR 297 their Lordships of the apex court per Elias CJN took great care to define quite clearly where the Onus of proof lies in a probate action. At page 312 his Lordship held and laid the onus: “Squarely on the proponents of the will and examined their evidence and their witnesses with jealous scrutiny in order to ensure that all allegations about suspicious circumstances are considered in an attempt to clear the conscience of the court. It was only after satisfying himself that the defence has discharged this onus that the learned Chief Justice returned to examine the challenger’s evidence which he found insufficient to sustain the claim that the deceased did not at the time of making the will know and approve its contents.”

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ISSUES RAISED ON PROBATE PROCEEDING NOT TOUCHING ON PROBATE SHOULD – BURDEN

With the plaintiff having introduced new issues over and above the initial challenge on the will Exhibit B, her claim was no longer within the ambit of the general rule as laid down in the case of Adebajo v Adebajo supra, wherein the onus of proof in a probate action lies on the proponents of the will. The general rule principle enunciated herein is in my humble view subject however to a situational circumstance as it is with the case at hand which serves as an exception thereof.

— C.B. Ogunbiyi, JCA. Ize-Iyamu v Alonge & Ors. (2007) – CA/L/184/03

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TESTATOR MUST BE OF SOUND DISPOSING MIND – CRITERIA

Cockburn CJ in Banks v Goodfellow LR 5 QB 549 at 565: “It is essential to the exercise of such a power that a testator shall understand the nature of the act and its effects; shall understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing; shall be able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect; and with a view to the latter object, that no disorder of the mind shall poison his affections, pervert his sense of right or prevent the exercise of his natural faculties that no insane delusion shall influence his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal of which, if the mind had been sound, would not have been made.”

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BURDEN OF PROOF TO ESTABLISH GENUINENESS OF WILL IS ON THE PROPOUNDER

It is settled, that the burden of proof of the genuiness and authenticity of a WILL lies on the party propounding it. Where there is a dispute as to a WILL, as in this case, the person who propounds it must clearly show by evidence that prima facie everything is in order that is to say that there has been due execution and that the testator had the necessary mental capacity and was a free agent. Having done that the burden is then cast upon the party who attacked the WILL to substantiate by evidence the allegation he made. This principle of law was very clearly enunciated in the case of Bafunke Johnson & ors vs. Akinola Maja & ors 13 WACA 290,291 – 292 cited supra by Appellants’ counsel where the court held as follows:- “The onus of proof shifts. In the first stage where there is a dispute as to a WILL those who profound it must clearly show by evidence that prima facie all is in order. Thereafter the burden is cast upon those who attacked the WILL and they are required to substantiate by evidence the allegations they have made. The decision must ultimately depend upon a consideration (having regard to the shifting burden of proof), of the value of all the evidence adduced by both parties.” See also Adebajo vs. Adebajo supra, Okelola v. Boyle supra and Egharevba vs. Oruonghae (2001) 11 NWLR (Pt. 724) 318, and Amu v. Amu (2000) 7 NWLR (Pt. 663) 170 -171, 174.

— A.G. Mshelia, JCA. Ize-Iyamu v Alonge & Ors. (2007) – CA/L/184/03

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