Did you know that your next of kin (NOK) is not automatically the benefactor of your wealth in the event of your death? Many women incorrectly believe that providing this information is sufficient for wealth transfer in their absence. However, it is not enough. You need a Will to ensure your wishes are adhered to when you are no longer around. Having a Will gives you so much power over things that concern you, even after you die.
What exactly does Next of Kin mean?
As a mandate in the work force, at the hospital or even at the bank, you have indicated persons as your NOK. The law refers to NOK as the first point of contact if anything happens to you, or when they cannot reach you; to confirm your identity, make decisions regarding your health etc. Such a persons are typically either your nearest blood relative, your spouse, partner or friend.
However, it is important you do not choose this person indiscriminately as you are effectively giving such persons rights or authority over your life and your easily disposable assets. Consider the persons history, trustworthiness, willingness to consider your best interests, and capacity to act on such. Also consider whether you have empowered them to act on your behalf.
What are the Rights and Limitations of a ‘Next of Kin’?
In law, it is a known fact that the person you have named as your NOK does not automatically become a beneficiary to inherit your wealth or entitlements in the event of your death. If however, the NOK is also a person named in a Will as a beneficiary, they are entitled to whatever you indicate in the Will. NOK status does not preclude entitlement, but it also does not guarantee it. The only criteria for entitlement in the presence of a Will, is the mention of the person as a beneficiary in the Will.
What happens when you write a Will?
When a person dies leaving a Will (Testate), the content of the Will determines the disbursement of the wealth of the deceased. On the other hand, if a persons dies without a Will (Intestate) inheritance of the deceased’s wealth is determined by customary law, Islamic law, English law, Administration of Estate law or the equivalent legislation. These processes can be quite bureaucratic and long winded, leaving your dependents and potential benefactors financially stranded until they are complete.
If your NOK is the same person you intend to inherit your estate at your demise, note that you have to set up a Will or Trust and ensure that he is named as the beneficiary in the Will. In the absence of a Will, the NOK can take necessary steps to obtain the letter of administration from probate, but it does not guarantee that they will receive anything.
In summary your NOK is someone you trust with:
• Immediate power to provide information confirming your identity
• Resources to safeguard your interests when contacted about an emergency involving you
• Power to consent on your behalf regarding emergency medical decisions
Your NOK is not:
• An automatic benefactor of your estate unless specified in your Will
• Exempted from the legal processes and laws of inheritance
• Someone who has legal authority over your estate. However, they can take the necessary steps to obtain the letter of administration from probate in the absence of a Will.
Why should you write a Will?
You should write a Will because it is the most efficient way of ensuring the transfer of generational wealth. For women, this is really important because women and girls are typically left out of such documents. Additionally, when women die without Wills, its the persons with power (the husbands, and sons, and even sons-in-laws!) that typically determine how and to whom her estate is shared. Promoting the culture of legally documenting the direct transfer of your wealth to exactly who you please is powerful as it reduces the chance of girls and women being overlooked, and increases the economic autonomy of your dependents if anything were to happen to you. This is an important way for women to take back power over that which concerns them!!
Writing a Will is sometimes scary but it is clearly necessary since death is inevitable. Unfortunately, many people are socialized to fear talking about it on the pretext that it brings death closer. However, not making clear arrangements ensures that your affairs are in disarray when you die, and it can leave your loved ones bankrupt in already difficult and uncertain times. Dying Testate vs Intestate will be the biggest determinant of whether your family will have to go through tedious legislative processes in order to access the estate you leave behind.
Now do you have a Will? Women need Wills too since life cannot be taken for granted. A common response I hear from women is “I don’t have land or businesses to leave for my children, so I can’t write a Will”. The truth is that you do not need such to write a Will. You can and should include a whole range of items in your estate such as your bank accounts, your pension, your car, your personal belongings, etc. You can even include your personal preference for how you want to be buried and such. Reach out to a lawyer today to get started. Feel free to contact me at Pathway Legal Consult for further guidance through the process in Nigeria.
Lillian Nwachukwu Esq.