By Adam Harris
Every so often when I read a novel or watched a movie on a rich person I always found a portion devoted to the reading of a Will. Relatives from every corner of the world would assemble in some room in the house of the deceased or in a lawyer’s office for the reading of the Will.
According to the book or the novel there would be tears from some and shouts from others depending on who benefits or suffers following the reading of the Will. Sometimes there would be legal challenges, but in the end the Will prevails.
In Guyana not too many people leave Wills and the result is what is called children property—a piece of property that belongs to each child. Sadly, people are people and for the most part, there are children who are not prepared to become embroiled in family disputes so they simply disappear.
If one of them takes control and maintains the property to near pristine conditions the others come in and make demands. The courts are full of such people.
Sadly, too many properties are left idle. No one pays the least attention and pretty soon it becomes clear that the property is abandoned. Vegetation takes over or the drug addicts and the homeless move in. Recently, there was a case of these illegal occupants taking possession of a property and actually starting a fire that left millions of dollars in its wake.
I remember a house in Garnett Street, Newtown, that was occupied by people who came from all walks of life. One of them was a newspaper vendor named Stay. I had met Stay many years ago at Bartica when she was making a living by various means.
So there was Stay living with people who were surely not relatives. These people began to literally use the house for cooking purposes. They would rip out a piece of wood from the walls and floor to light their cooking fires. And Stay was among them.
Andrew Hunte lived next door and he would tell you that he always knew when Stay was coming home. She was perpetually drunk. How she managed to walk on the beams that represented all that was left as the floor was a miracle. She never fell to the floor or space below.
These situations are perfect for the speculators. There are real estate agents who would investigate the ownership of these properties. People in the various city and town councils or neighbourhood democratic councils are always willing to provide the information for a fee. The agent then goes into operation.
Powers of attorney are created and the sale of the property is almost a done deal. It would be interesting to know how many properties are sold in this manner. And it is easy. If people do not pay their rates for years then they simply do not exist and the Deeds Registry was always willing to provide a new deed or transport.
There is this case of a lawyer who lived in Garnett Street, Lamaha Gardens. He not only owned a beautiful house, but he owned a plot of adjoining lot. This is prime real estate. He died intestate and someone far removed from his household is moving to take possession. This is a person who is literally walking off the streets to own property worth more than $100 million.
Currently, there is a case of a lawyer actually selling a property that was owned by a man who lived in Linden. This man also owned a property in the city. He too died intestate and had it not been for the interest of a grandson, all may have gone unnoticed.
This young man happened to come home from his home in France to find that a lawyer had actually sold one of the properties using a power of attorney that was not only forged, but on inspection could only be used in the United States. This passed muster under the noses of the court clerks and the other lawyer. Even the judge did not notice this.
What boggled the mind was that this lawyer was able to sell the property twice. And the Deeds Registry was only too happy to provide another copy of the transport or deed to match the second sale. I don’t hear too many people going to jail for this.
This is not unique. But even a Will is not enough to safeguard the properties in Guyana. As a reporter, I have had many people coming to me to claim that people used forged Wills to take possession of properties. The giveaway is often the signature of the person making the Will.
The good thing is that once there is an original Will, the problem of protecting the property is not insurmountable. Yet corruption is so rampant that even if an individual leaves a copy of the Will with his lawyer there is nothing to stop the lawyer from doctoring it.
I have made a Will and I am about to change it for personal reasons. It is not that I have money, but I have a house which I want to stay in the family. However, I wish that the courts could protect what I propose to leave behind.
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(A presentation by Sir Ronald Sanders on Friday 17 February 2017 at a Conference organised by Goethals Consulting Corp.... more