February 20, 2019

The thought of writing a Will to an average Nigerian is seen as an abomination…in other words, a taboo! Most households would never bring up death as a topic for discussion. We were made to believe while growing up that death is the monster lurking in the shadows; our most terrifying childhood nightmare come to life. The superstitious belief that death shouldn’t be spoken about is a notion we, however, need to turn our hearts away from.   Death is inevitable, having that thought at the back of your mind can help you make wise decisions like ensuring the interest of the people you care about and your assets are protected, while still alive. As the old saying goes, “no one knows tomorrow”. You might as well plan today. Your first step to planning is to take into account what you have and how you want it to be distributed in order to protect those you care about. The next step is to determine what estate planning tool will work best for you and how it will help you achieve your objectives . To put it simply, a Will is a witnessed document that states out in writing the wishes of how a person wants his/her properties and possessions distributed after death. It could be your cars, building, laptop or even as little as your phone. In light of this, we can say that it is not an exclusive preserve of the rich and wealthy of the society to make a Will. If you own assets, have people dependent on you or own an equity stake in a business, then you should write one. As an employee, your contributions as a worker under the contributory Pension Scheme are assets that could as well be recognized in a Will. Still think you don’t need a will? As a Retirement Savings Account holder, have you ever thought about who will be your beneficiary if you go over the Big Ridge before age 50? The need for workers currently contributing to a pension scheme or people who have retired to make a Will cannot be overemphasized. Having a Will allows one to prescribe who inherits his / her assets, entitlements, and possessions. Imagine a scenario where the wife of the deceased takes the siblings of her late husband to court, in order to claim a share of the pension benefits left behind, which ought to rightfully be hers and her children (as the intent of the deceased would have been). Starting to sound like a home video…yea?! The truth is that this happens very frequently in our society and we need to ensure that we stay enlightened. A will makes the pension benefit transfer process easy for the surviving family members and having it clearly outlined will avoid igniting rift or conflict among beneficiaries. The benefits of having a Will are enormous. You want to avoid the intestacy process through which a court becomes involved in distributing your benefits when you are gone, to unintended beneficiaries. Section 8(2) Pension Reform Act, 2014 (as amended) recognizes the imperative for a contributor to a pension scheme in Nigeria to make a Will in order to make for easy transfer of his/her Pension Fund contributions to named beneficiaries. It is interesting to note that having a will can also minimize the tax consequences associated with the transfer of a person’s belongings and ensure that family members continue to receive financial support. Even the law is in great favor of this act! In addition, it is worthy to also note that the person named “Next of Kin” does not automatically become the beneficiary of a deceased’s pension. Ideally, a “Next of Kin” is the closest relative of the person which is needed for accessibility in case of emergency. Being a beneficiary is totally different from being a next of kin but that’s another topic for another time. Moreover, the alternative is resorting to using a Letter of Administration to access the benefits left by the deceased. This letter has to be granted by a Surrogate court or Probate registry in Nigeria. The function of this Judiciary is to appoint appropriate people close to the deceased which could be the husband, child, or sibling to access the benefits. This means that your benefits may become subject to the Native Law and Custom prevailing in your community and assets could be distributed to unintended Beneficiaries. You definitely don’t want that. Remember the scenario I painted earlier about the widow whose husband didn’t have a Will?  We all know how the story ends. What eventually happens is that the siblings take most part of the assets leaving the immediate family of the deceased with next to nothing. Death is hard, and suffering from the subsequent loss is even harder. Remember, the decisions you make today can have profound consequences for your loved ones. Having a Will is not a superstitious belief as many believe but a means of security and planning. Start now!
Share with friends