WHAT DOES THE LAW SAYS ABOUT NEXT-OF-KIN IN NIGERIA
Are you among those vast people thinking that 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 as a beneficiary to your wealth or entitlement(s) in the event of your demise?”Let us consider legal analysis based on two major 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 the Court of law, when a person dies leaving behind a will, he is said to have died testate. In such a circumstance, Issue of next-of-kin becomes useless. The reason is that the wealth of the deceased will simply be shared based on the contents of the documents called “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 ascertained by law, which implies, it cam be soughted out in customary law, Islamic law, 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 ascertained by the incidence of marriage of the departed soul. 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. We can consider some example in Obuzez V. Obuzez (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1043) 430.
English Law and the letter of administration of the estate laws of various state, the surviving spouse alongside with the children of the deceased inherit his estate to the exclusion of every other person. The parents of the deceased takes 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 and a blood relation to the parents of the deceased etc. Example of the case was 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 ascertained who will inherit the property of the departed soul. That is to say in the circumstance, heirs are those who are under native law and custom entitled to inherit the Properties of the deceased. For Muslims, Islamic law determines who to inherit the deceased estates.
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 respect to 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 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.” Your Next of kin is someone empowered to provide necessary information about you where necessary 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 letter of administration from the probate registry. 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, various investments or at place of work.