It has become an unpalatable recurring decimal amongst us that when our people pass on, invariably, their passage is marked with myriads of problems. Take a look at three true-to-life cases:
Tamuno worked in several blue-chip establishments in the course of his 25 – year work history in paid employment. In each of the Organisations, he was mandated to open a salary bank account. In all, he had a total of 6 current bank accounts to his name, all of which he maintained even after resigning from the establishments. He set up his own chain of businesses after retirement. In addition, over the years, he had acquired a substantial volume of shares in 13 publicly quoted companies, all of which were doing well in the stock market. He had also invested in real property all over the country. Being particularly business savvy, most of his properties were located in choice areas in the country’s major commercial nerve centres. There was also the country home he built, located in his town of origin. His father had insisted this was ‘a task that must be done’. Tamuno built a set of edifices on 2 acres of land allocated to him on his father’s land. On the business front, Tamuno had some foreign investors partnering with him in his manufacturing outfit. Equity participation was spelt out in clear terms. Bank facilities were being serviced regularly. Everything was working for Tamuno. Very soon, his son, Ibirobo would join him in the business, he reasoned.
However, the unexpected happened with no warning at all! Tamuno died in a plane crash on the way from Aso Villa. His wife, Alali was devastated. Nothing had prepared her for the loss of her husband. After the burial and grieving, she suddenly realized that she ought to take charge of her late husband’s estate.
Interestingly, Tamuno’s large extended family gave his nuclear family necessary support and did not make undue demands on his wife and children. The only problem was this….. wait for it! No one knew Tamuno’s worth. Unfortunately, his wife knew next to nothing about his businesses and investments. At best, she had a hazy idea about the business aspect of her husband’s life.
She had no knowledge about his bank accounts, investments, business interests, annuity plans, life assurance policies, assets and liabilities etc. Who would piece together the jigsaw puzzle? Was there anyone, anyone at all to fill in the gaps in information?
Regrettably, the foregoing scenario plays out daily. Countless unclaimed bank balances (home and abroad), properties and dividends are lost forever to banks and other institutions. Parcels of land and other properties are encroached upon simply because the owners are dead and no one else knows the properties exist! Many people keep information about their assets hidden from their spouses. Why?!! What needless and avoidable waste!
Williams died suddenly last year after a massive stroke at the age of 55. He was a very vibrant, charming, energetic and vivacious gentleman, a professional to the core. Unfortunately, he had absolutely no foreknowledge or premonition of death. He was most unprepared for his transition. Immediately after his death, his brothers dispossessed his wife, Nora of the house built jointly by both of them. They did not stop at that, they wrote to Williams’ employers demanding that his final entitlements be paid to them. Unfortunately, Williams did not write a will as he did not expect to die so soon. He died intestate (without a will).
The situation described above depicts uncertainty for Williams’ survivors. We also expect that rancour and strife are spelt out in no uncertain terms.
At age 45, Uzoma was already at the peak of her career as Community Relations Director in an oil company. She married at age 38 and had her 2 children in quick succession but at an advanced age. Her husband, Obi reasoned with her that the children were too tender to be left to nannies and therefore requested her to leave paid employment. Uzo agreed and applied for an early retirement. The proceeds of her retirement benefits were utilized in purchasing real estate in choice areas in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja. She lovingly allowed her husband to purchase all of them in his own name. After all, both of them had become ‘one flesh’. Fast forward three years later and irreconcilable differences had arisen between Uzoma and Obi. She demanded her properties back but Obi denied they belonged to her. Very soon after this argument, Obi passed on suddenly. To Uzoma’s rude shock, she discovered he had a will in which he left all his possessions including the ones she paid for, to his mistress.
‘Life comes in seasons. The recognition of these seasons and doing what we should do in season makes the difference between peace, order and clarity on the one hand and stress, strife and confusion on the other. The season of birth inevitably yields to a season of rest from all work. Between these two seasons are several hidden, sudden, unexpected premature exit throws which sometimes gives no options. It therefore makes a lot of sense to put our houses and all our affairs in order as soon as possible in the journey of life. Needless to say, doing so will not in any way affect life span, goals or life achievement. It is imperative to conduct our affairs carefully and wisely while still in full control of our faculties, resources and assets.’
The Clarion Call to Everyone
This is a clarion call to everyone reading this write up to rearrange priorities. No one should be passive in property acquisition and documentation. Each one of us should remember that we brought nothing into this world and certainly cannot take anything out. ‘We should therefore self-govern our affairs and put structures and order in place that will help our loved ones and the world at large, long after we have taken the inevitable bow, before the curtains close and the lights go out.’
Women in particular, whether single or married should endeavour to own property and enterprise, especially in view of the strong African extended family system where ‘in laws’ still hold all the aces when her spouse transits. In many parts of Nigeria, traditionally, women cannot even inherit property. This underscores the need for each woman to own at least a business and property in her (full) name.
What Could Happen if You Have No Will or other Estate Plan?
- It means you have left everything to chance. Your loved ones may be subjected to the oppressive and ‘grab it all’ tendencies of relatives. Many helpless widows have suffered humiliating experiences in our society, even in church. I have heard many high – ranking persons boast that such a situation cannot arise in their own extended family. Please do not be fooled as this can and is happening more frequently than you could imagine even amongst church members! Please do not be caught napping.
- Your assets will be distributed according to a formula commonly referred to as intestacy. In such a case, you have no control whatsoever over what happens to the property after you.
- Your possessions may never be fully located except you put pen to paper NOW.
- If the marriage you contracted in your life time is a customary marriage, your hard earned property would be distributed according to the customs of your part of the country.
What Should Each Reader Do?
- Grab a copy of ‘Putting Your House in Order’ a 80-page book which I authored and read it with gusto. It is illustrative, graphic, easy to read and very enjoyable. Let enthusiasm and determination to take decisive action well up in you.
- Fill up the Questionnaire at the back of the book. The questionnaire will trigger your memory as to the quantum of your assets and liabilities. Plan your estate deliberately and intentionally.
- Approach your lawyer with the completed questionnaire and seek legal advice on the best estate planning method for your peculiar situation.
- A will is one of the most common estate planning methods. We advise you to instruct your lawyer to draft you a will. Be precise and unequivocal (not ambiguous) in making gifts to people, causes etc.
- Remember to appoint 2 executors in your will who will carry out your wishes when you have transited to the great beyond.
- Be sure to sign your will failing which it is unenforceable. Your signature should be witnessed by at least 2 people who are not beneficiaries of the will.
- Your will should be lodged at the Probate Registry of the High Court where you reside.
- Consider processing a Testamentary Capacity Report which will be annexed to your will.
- Be sure to insist on a Residuary Estate Clause in your will. Such a clause covers distribution of every other property which is not expressly mentioned in our will.
- Please be advised to review your will periodically by way of a CODICIL especially when there are new acquisitions. You may even have disposed of some of your property.
Every literate person needs to acquaint himself/herself with sufficient knowledge to deal with issues of life (and death). Unfortunately, the vast majority tend to ignore it or at least procrastinate to our peril and loss.
I pray that you will be among the few who will think it through and take decisive steps NOW. Contact the undersigned today for guidance. You can be assured of utmost confidentiality.
National Legal Adviser,
The Redeemed Christian Church of God