• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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BusinessDay

Write a will to avoid family crises after

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It is a common occurrence in our environment to find families go into war as result of distribution of inheritance because of the non-existence of a will. In Africa, there is no reliable data to determine attitudes towards wills and the usual practice is to follow whatever path is shaped by customs and tradition concerning inheritance. In Nigeria, however, there have been a good number of celebrated cases in which the estates of deceased personalities became the subject of acrimonious litigations and proxy wars that are fought using the media due to the failure to prepare wills or feuds over their propriety.

Although most people refrain from dwelling on the matter of their own deaths, practically everyone recognizes that it is an inevitable end. And when death occurs intestate the concern shifts to the palpable impact on the living, particularly the immediate family and relations, triggering a jostle for whatever estate the deceased may have left behind. “Losing a loved one is traumatic, doubly so if it is unexpected. But if you have a will in place it allows family members to grieve without having to also worry about legal considerations,” says Angela Mhlanga, head of Financial Consulting at Standard Bank.

In Nigeria, and indeed other parts of the world, the contest goes beyond legal adjudications. Everything comes into the mix. The dispute manifests in such entangling scenarios  as sibling versus sibling; mother versus children; children from a first or step wife versus those of the second (or third or fourth) wife; the family relations against the wife and/or children. The showdown could become ugly resulting in physical confrontation and the attendant risk of more deaths.

It is such disputations, among others, according to Binta Max-Gbinije, chief executive of Stanbic IBTC Trustees Limited, that makes it imperative to spare oneself and family the anguish of litigations and enmity by preparing a will on the administration and sharing out of assets. “A will is not only for people who have reached a certain age when death is considered ‘not far away’. People die at any age and a will is needed, especially if you have assets and property that should be allocated to persons who you wish to give them to. Making a will is one of the ways that anyone can ensure that the assets will be distributed according to express wishes,” Max-Gbinije stated.

If death occurs without a will in place, commonly described as intestate, and the assets are located in Nigeria, customary, Sharia or state law will govern the distribution of the assets. However, this may not be what the estate owner wants and can result in the surviving spouse, family and friends suffering unnecessary financial hardship and emotional stress.

Of course, not everyone has the expertise and understanding to draft a legal document like a will. However, this shouldn’t be a problem.                                                                                                                                            To save the individual from the bother of writing wills, and to have it done professionally, the services of a lawyer or a registered trustee can be sought, Max-Gbinije counseled, adding however that should the individual have very few assets, he may appoint an alternative person to wind up the estate. “This person is called an executor and will be the one who will ensure everything that is written in your will happen as you said. You need to make sure that your family knows about this person and he or she should be named in the will.”

As a subsidiary of Stanbic IBTC Holdings, which has positioned itself as an end-to-end financial services provider,  Stanbic IBTC Trustees Limited, Max-Gbinije stated, completes the wealth offering from cradle to grave and beyond, and ensures inter-generational wealth transfer for clients of the group as well as other clients. “The bank handles transactional products for the child (cradle), then our asset management and stockbroking subsidiaries take care of the investments for the adults, for instance. Our pension subsidiary takes care of the retiree, and we in Stanbic IBTC Trustees complete the cycle by taking care of the estates of our clients, while they are alive and when they pass on.”

Macleonards Akumuo, a lawyer, says the administration of a will hinges on the oversight role played by the executor or trustee, which is essentially, “taking the necessary practical steps in not only proving a will but ensuring that the executor carries out the wishes and directions of the testator in the will. It deals with the management of the estate of a deceased person in accordance with the written directions in a will, and in compliance with available legislation.”

Mhlanga says planning for the future care of under-age children in the unfortunate event of death is the most critical reason to have a will in place. Children are the most at risk when there is no will, and if both parents die, they become wards of the state, and in some cases proceed to become social misfits and failures. “Your children would ultimately be placed in the care of a willing relative, but in such traumatic circumstances, no parent would want their children to be worrying about who will look after them. In some instances, parents also feel that relatives are not the best people to look after their children, and if there is no will in place, it could become extremely complicated.”

Overall, the requirements for preparing a will, across most jurisdictions, are uncomplicated. The person must be 18 years and above; the will must be voluntarily made and written down; the will owner and his witnesses must sign every page and every alteration(s) made to the document and must initial each and every page. The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will.

The will must be dated, while younger children must have a guardian representing them. It is also recommended to get advice from experts and choose an executor, preferably a company as this guarantees perpetual succession and expertise. The will should be reviewed every year or as circumstances change so that it accurately reflects the person’s current wishes.

There’s no good reason not to have a will. A will ensures that everything in the individual’s estate goes to the right people in a timely manner and, preventing additional heartache and worry at a very stressful time, Max-Gbinije stated. “The need to put an estate plan in place is a very important one which responsible people are encouraged to do, and this awareness is gradually catching on, particularly with global and national events such as air crashes and other disasters occurring around the world. These events bring the issue of our mortality to mind as people are reminded that death is inevitable and no respecter of persons – it affects both the rich and poor; young and old, and it cuts across all religions and ethnicity. Though slow-going, people are however realizing the benefits and importance of trusteeship services, with more people buying into the idea and consequently doing the right thing.”

Modestus Anaesoronye