What the Law Says About Next-of-Kin in Nigeria
Are you among those that think by giving a name to financial institutions (bank for example) as next-of-kin you have chosen that person to automatically inherit your wealth in the event of your demise?
In other words, do you think by merely picking someone as your next-of-kin you have made that person a beneficiary to your wealth or entitlement(s) in the event of your death?
Let us attempt a little legal analysis based on two factors: whether the deceased has a Will (a document written by a deceased when he was alive that prescribes how his property is to be shared when he dies) or whether he dies without a will.
In law when a person dies leaving behind a will, he is said to have died testate. In such a circumstance, the Issue of next-of-kin becomes useless. The reason is that the wealth of the deceased will simply be shared in line with the contents of the will.
The position is still the same even where the deceased dies without leaving a will. The position is that when a person dies without a will, the question as to who to inherit his wealth is determined by law.
That is to say, customary law, or Islamic law or English Law or the Administration of Estates Law (or equivalent legislation) not whom the deceased mentioned in his bank or place of work as next-of-kin.
How then do we know the law to be applied in sharing the property of the deceased?
The law to be applicable in distributing the estate of the deceased shall be determined by the incidence of marriage. If a deceased contracted a statutory marriage, succession to his wealth will be effected in accordance with either the English law or the Administration of Estates Law (or equivalent legislation), depending on the jurisdiction. See Obuzez V. Obuzez (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1043) 430.
Under English Law and the administration of estate laws of various state, the surviving spouse together with the children of the deceased inherits his estate to the exclusion of every other person.
The parents of the deceased take next after the surviving spouse and children, followed by brothers and sisters of the full blood, brothers and sisters of half blood, grandparents, aunties and uncles of full blood relation to the parents of the deceased etc. See Kekereogun & Ors v. Oshodi (1971) LPELR-1686(SC) subject however to contrary provisions under the administration of estate laws of various states.
Where, however, the deceased contracted a customary marriage, then customary law will determine who will inherit the property of the deceased. That is to say in the circumstance, heirs are those who are under native law and custom entitled to inherit his estate. For Muslims, Islamic law determines who to inherit the deceased estate.
Therefore, under the Nigerian law of intestate succession, one cannot choose his heir under the pretext of next-of-kin; the law imposes heirs on him.
For example, it is the surviving spouse and children of an intestate who married under the Act that are his heirs.
The intestate cannot, therefore, by naming only one of them or any of his other blood relatives his next-of-kin, scheme them out of inheritance as the act of naming his next-of-kin does not amount to testamentary disposition.
In view of the foregoing, there is nothing special about next-of-kin as far as succession is concerned.
Next-of-kin is merely the first contact point if anything happens to you.
He or she is someone empowered to make decisions for you in times of emergency or where you are not readily available or unable to make the decisions yourself. He is someone empowered to provide necessary information about you where needed such as confirming your identity.
He is also someone positioned to make medical decisions such as providing consent for a medical procedure. At best, what a next-of-kin can do after the demise of the deceased is perhaps to ensure that necessary steps are taken towards obtaining a letter of administration from the probate. The typical Nigerian’s conception of the term, “next-of-kin” is therefore erroneous.
A next-of-kin can inherit only if he is named in a Will as a beneficiary or by his status he is entitled by law to inherit but not actually because he is named as the next-of-kin of the deceased in a bank or place of work.
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