In this short piece we will be telling you about next of kin and inheritance rights in Nigeria.
As usual, let us set the stage for our discussion –
What happens when Mrs Aai filled Chief Tuu’s name as her next of kin in her bank opening form and then Mrs Aai dies without a will? Does it mean that Chief Tuu as her next of kin can approach the Bank to get Mrs Aai’s money?
– Does filing a person’s name as next of kin in bank documents automatically mean that the person will have access to the account once the account owner dies?
A lot of people have the impression that a next of kin is automatically entitled to inherit or share from a deceased person’s property or bank account. That is not the case under Nigerian law. A person is not entitled to share in the property of a deceased person simply because he was named as a next of kin.
It is only when the next of kin has been named as a beneficiary under a will or trust that he would be entitled to have a share in the property or estate of the deceased person.
For clarity, we need to consider what does ‘next of kin’ mean and how is it different from being a beneficiary (under a will or trust).
The Black’s Law Dictionary defines the words ‘next of kin’ as the person or persons most closely related to a descendant by blood or affinity. A person’s next of kin is his closest living relative who will serve as first contact in the event of emergencies or eventualities. In most instances, he is empowered to make decisions for the person in times of need or where the person is not readily available or unable to make personal decisions in selected instances. That is where the buck stops for next of kins.
On the other hand, the Black’s Law Dictionary describes a beneficiary as one designated to receive something as a result of a legal arrangement or instrument.
Where a person made a will before dying, it is the will that determines who gets what from the properties of the deceased testator and not his appointment of next of kin. This means that appointing someone as your next of kin is not a substitute for making will. Also, that someone has been appointed as next of kin does not automatically mean that they share in your will or properties.
What happens when a person dies without leaving a will?
You might ask – is the situation any different where no will was made before death? In other words, if there was no will, does the next of kin automatically inherit the properties of the deceased? Well, the simple answer is – no. So if a person dies without making a will, his next of kin does not automatically inherit his properties or take over his bank account. Mbanu. Instead, the law of succession kicks in to determine how the properties will be shared.
What do we mean by the law of succession kicking in?
With all we have said, there is no nothing special under the law about next of kin. Your next of kin is merely the first contact person to be reached in case something happens to you.
Your next of Kin is not your automatic heir or automatically next to inherit your properties.
 More precisely, where a person who is subject to customary law contracts a marriage under the Marriage Act, there is a presumption that the Marriage Act shall regulate succession to his intestate estate. Essentially, it is the court’s duty to consider the personal law of the deceased and the nature of marriage contracted by the deceased person before his death; as the mode of sharing the deceased estate will be determined by the incidence of marriage of the deceased or his adopted personal law.
Thus, if the deceased person contracted marriage under the Marriage Act, customary law will not be applicable, and his estate will be distributed according to the provisions of either the English law or the applicable Administration of Estates Law in that jurisdiction.
However, where the marriage was contracted under the customary law, the customary law of the deceased person’s place will govern how the property will be shared and who is entitled or not entitled to the property. Furthermore, if the marriage was contracted under Islamic law, the Islamic laws and practices applicable to the distribution of property will be applicable to the deceased’s estate. –
Source Mondaq article already referenced above.