• Friday, April 12, 2024
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BusinessDay

Is estate planning, and putting a legacee in place really a death wish?

A worried Nkechi, a homemaker came home from a condolence visit to a friend, Bidemi, who had just lost her husband, and suggested to her wealthy husband the need to urgently have an estate plan in place. Such plan, she reasoned, will ensure a protected legacee for their children, herself and other loved ones. She suggested he starts with writing his Will. Both Nkechi and her husband had never given estate planning a thought before now. They reasoned, like many Nigerians do, that such exercise is performed when an individual has reached a certain age (old age) when there is a higher possibility of dying sooner rather than later. But Nkechi was highly disturbed by what she witnessed at Bidemi’s house and came to the conclusion that estate planning, including a written Will and or Trust, would have staved off such occurrence.

Bidemi’s in-laws had paid her a visit, while Nkechi was with her, to “discuss” what to do with “their late brother’s” estate (assets). But it was clear that the in-laws had taken a decision before arriving and were only there to pass on instructions to Bidemi. Their “discussion” was to instruct Bidemi to prepare to move from the mansion in Ikeja GRA where she lived with her late husband and their daughter to a smaller apartment in Abule Egba, the outskirts of Lagos, also owned by the late husband. According to the in-laws, the mansion was “too big” for only Bidemi and her daughter, and in any case, she could only have a daughter for “them” and so they needed to “ensure the continuity of their brother’s name.” This happened barely two months after Bidemi lost her husband. Nkechi was scandalized!

If Nkechi had thought the husband would be enthusiastic about her suggestion, then she was completely mistaken. Her husband flipped his lid and accused Nkechi of wishing him a premature death. The subject was never broached again.

The above is a typical reaction by Nigerians to the mention of putting a legacee in place. Broaching the subject of legacee to the average Nigerian is sometimes so stormy, it could be likened to slapping one’s parents. In a society like Nigeria that is still steeped in superstitious beliefs, it is almost a taboo to think or talk about death; it is seen as wishing ill for oneself. Unfortunately, death is an inevitable end for all and the earlier one confronts his mortality dispassionately the better for his quality of life and that of his family.

Leaving a legacee for loved ones, however, requires a deliberate attempt at estate planning, deploying such financial planning tools like a Trust, among other robust as well as simple tools. One simple document, for instance, can set out an individual’s estate/assets and signify where such assets should go upon demise. Such a document could ordinarily save a family from the double jeopardy of losing a loved one and possibly forfeiting the assets he left behind.

There are those, unlike Nkechi’s husband, however, who have no qualms about the subject of death but who are still unresponsive regarding estate planning. They argue that such an exercise is for very old people who are likely to die sooner rather than later. Such thinking is inimical to the orderliness of the family and society. Death comes to both the young and the old; and sometimes unfortunately comes suddenly.

The most recent report on life expectancy by the World Health Organisation showed that Nigeria has an average life expectancy of around 55 years. What this means is that one would be considered lucky to live past 55 years in Nigeria. “The need to take steps and put an Estate Plan in place from now cannot be over-emphasized. It is the responsible thing to do because death happens. If you can, you must do all in your power to ensure that when you go, you have left your dependents well taken care of and in a way that will preserve the harmony of your family,” says Binta Max-Gbinije, chief executive, Stanbic IBTC Trustees.

The necessity for estate planning, leaving a legacee, cannot be overstated in a society like Nigeria where cultural and community practices may sometimes work against your loved ones inheriting your estate if death is intestate, with very traumatic consequences. Inheritance squabbles, which are widespread and often widely reported, should make it obvious why a simple document stating how ones assets are handled when someone dies for instance, is necessary once an individual attains adulthood, earns a living, and plans on having a family or has loved ones in his life. Stanbic IBTC Trustees Will offering is referred to as ‘Stanbic IBTC Legacee’.

In 2013, women from South-East and South-South organized a National Widowhood Summit in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, where they called for increased advocacy on widows’ rights. The conveners stressed the need for estate planning to stave off conflicts that usually arise over inheritance in the event of death. Indeed, if an individual really cares about his loved ones, then experiences like Bidemi’s can be easily avoided. Perhaps, the reasons below will further put in perspective the need for estate planning.

Unpredictability/inevitability of death

Death is both inevitable and unpredictable. With healthcare services not as robust as they should be, high crime rate, infrastructural deficits, and regular eruption of violent clashes, the possibility of dying young or unexpected is high. The death rate from strange ailments, particularly among young Nigerians, is on the rise and it would be unwise and even unkind to die intestate. “Making a will is one of the ways that anyone can ensure that their assets will be distributed according to expressed wishes,” Binta Max-Gbinije says.

A secure future for the children

Since the average life expectancy in Nigeria is put at 54.5 percent, it follows that many who die most likely left behind infants and children who are still totally dependent on their parents. Providing for the future care of children, in the unlucky occurrence of untimely death, is the most critical reason to have a plan now. Unfortunately, many have died without a proper plan in place for the minors thereby forcing such children to drop out of school or be bequeathed to a relative who may feel pressured to accept the extra responsibility or who may be willing but lack the resources to provide proper care. Such children could become misfits and sadly often turn to crime for survival.

Bitter litigations, bad blood

When someone dies without a legacee in place, family members (immediate and extended) can and do stake claims on the deceased’s estate. Often times, this leads to legal and other forms of confrontations. The dispute is usually between the wife and the in-laws, like in Bidemi’s case. However, sometimes it is among wives, children and extended family members, or even among siblings. Such disputes are usually very difficult to resolve and may take years and decades, with disputants employing different tricks, including physical confrontation and diabolic means, to try and gain advantage. Disputes over a deceased’s estate have been known to lead to further deaths and break up of families. Such disputations, among others, make it imperative to spare members of the family the anguish of litigations, enmity and further deaths by having an estate plan in place.

Costly, lengthy, traumatic probate

Probate is the legal certification of the validity of a Will. It is a necessary process through which a Will must pass to ensure its authenticity. Ordinarily, a probate can sometimes be unwieldy. But without a will in place, probate could be downright burdensome, tasking the time, efforts, and finances of loved ones. And that is just the half of it. A legacee “ensures that the assets are distributed according to express wishes.” If a person dies intestate, what happens to his estate is at the discretion of the state in accordance with the prevalent laws. The courts may give the assets to someone the deceased wouldn’t want to have it.

Overall, according to Max-Gbinije, the requirements for an estate plan or leaving a legacee are quite straightforward. “The need to put an estate plan in place is a very prudent course of action one ought to take once an individual attains adulthood,” she says. Such plan not only gives the individual a sense of his worth, it allows him to adequately provide for and secure the future of his loved ones, even in his absence, and above all, preserves the fond memories that  loved ones will have of the deceased.