BY PETER EGWUATU, ROSEMARY ONUOHA, & ONOZURE DANIA
The next of kin of deceased bank account holders have continued to lament the ordeals they go through in accessing money left behind by their departed loved ones. These, according to them, have brought untold hardship to them and are becoming disincentives to save with banks.
Vanguard’s investigation revealed that next of kin of account holders (who died without a Will go through terrible situations when they visit banks to collect the money left behind by deceased persons. This has left a huge amount of money running into billions in bank vaults as dormant accounts. They have, therefore, called for the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other regulatory agencies of government in the ever incresing amount of money in dormant account leaving beneficiaries in penury while the banks continued to trade with the money that is now above N100billion.
For instance, one, Mr. Eroms Adigwe, who narrated his ordeal to Vanguard, said; “I have a sister who died on 11th November, 2008 and when I went to her bankers, First Bank of Nigeria, to claim the N120,000 she had in her account as her next of kin, they told me to produce a letter of administration before I can have access to the money. I went to Lagos State Secretariat at Alausa, Ikeja to seek for the document and I was asked to pay N24,000 and I complied. I took the receipt to the High Court in Ikeja so as to obtain the letter of Administration.
“When I got to the court, a file was opened for me and they said I needed to see some officials to sign the document and they kept tossing me from one person to another, and sometimes they will inform me that the person to sign the document was not available. The court officials kept telling me to check back subsequently.
“The most terrible thing is that any person you meet, he or she will demand for money from you. This, I did for over seven months without success. So, I was eventually frustrated when at a time I was asked to produce four persons that are related to me as witnesses. So I left pursuing the case in July 2009 till date. My sister’s children are still very young and are in school, all I wanted to do was get the money and use it to assist them, but that has not worked out. My younger ones and I are the ones taking care of my sister’s children up till now.”
Many other victims who did not want their names mentioned have narrated similar pains they go through in securing letters of administration.
In his own experience, Mr. Francis Iwuchukwu, who lost his father sometime ago, said; “Shortly after the demise of my father, as the first child, I did approach my father’s bank to inform them that their customer who coincidentally is my father had died. The bank empathised with me and asked me to put it into writing, which I did. Thereafter, I was told to approach a Lagos High Court to get a letter of administration before my father’s money can be released to me since my father did not write a will, despite the bank’s confirmation that I was his next of kin.
It took the probate section of the court over one year to issue the letter of administration that will enable me collect the money, because of the long procedure involved in getting all the necessary documents, before the money can be released since there was no written will.”
Iwuchukwu said that after the probate section of the court had taken a long time to issue the letter of administration, the banks also took their own turn in ensuring that he went through another round of procedures before he eventually got the money.
When Vanguard sought the opinions of banks regarding the trauma the next of kin of account holders face in claiming money left behind by the deceased customers, they said it is a regulatory requirement that next of kin must produce letter of administration.
According to most of the officials of the banks who spoke on condition of anonymity; “It is not the banks’ fault that the next of kin should go through this stress. The next of kin that customers fill in the form when opening an account does not guarantee the person access to the customer’s account, it is only an indication that the person whose name appears as next of kin can only come openly to begin the process of having access to the customer’s account. And that process is to produce a will and letter of administration as demanded by law.”
Meanwhile, in another development, as the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS, of the Pension Reform Act, 2004, gradually gathers momentum, beneficiaries of some bereaved contributors, who have had to make claims for their entitlements have been frustrated by the cumbersome process of getting Letter of Administration. Due to the prolonged delays being experienced by such beneficiaries, the Pension Fund Operators, PenOp, have decided to pay beneficiaries the initial lump sum from the Retirement Savings Account, RSA, of their deceased benefactor, to pay the balance pending when they bring the Letter of Administration.
Despite the gesture of PenOp, some beneficiaries are still not happy with the delay in getting Letter of Administration because sometimes, the initial lump sum might not be enough for them to start life again, after their bread winner must have passed on.
Since getting a Letter of Administration can take up to six months, a lot of beneficiaries have had to go borrowing while others have been forced to live from hand to mouth. Vanguard investigation revealed that the bureaucracy of Nigerian courts is one of the reasons why beneficiaries have not been finding it easy to get the Letters of Administration. Besides, the fee to be paid to lawyers to get a Letter of Administration is about 10 per cent of what the contributor left behind for the beneficiary.
The Dana example : It will be recalled that families of victims of the Dana Airplane that crashed on June 3rd, 2012, were promised that they would get compensation after 30 days of the accident, but seven months later, most of them are still battling to get Letters of Administration without which they will not be paid compensation. It was only after the Lagos State Government waded into the matter and asked the courts to soften the processes and cut down on some strenuous requirements that some were able to get theirs.
Process of getting Letter of Administration:
To get a Letter of Administration from any High Court in the country, a beneficiary will proceed to the court with the death certificate of the deceased. Next, a form for Letter of Administration will be given to the beneficiary to be filled. The beneficiary is then required to place an advertorial in any national newspaper to declare that the deceased is actually dead. An interval of 21 working days will be observed to see if anybody will come forward to counter the advertorial. If nobody comes forward to counter the advertorial, the beneficiary will then proceed to the court with the newspaper bearing the advertorial. Then, the beneficiary will pay the lawyer an amount equal to 10 per cent of the total contribution in the RSA, which is the standard charge for getting a Letter of Administration in any High Court in Nigeria.
After all these processes, the beneficiary will now wait until the court issues him the Letter of Administration. However, investigations revealed that due to the extended family culture in Nigeria, two or more Letters of Administration may spring up from one family which could halt or delay payment of benefits to next-of-kins.
Need for Will:
Due to the prolonged delay in getting a Letter of Administration and the unnecessary inconveniences which it can cause beneficiaries of contributors of the CPS, experts have advised the contributors to prepare a Will to forestall such occurrences.
According to Mr. Rotimi Edu, a Lagos lawyer and insurance practitioner, the situation whereby only one per cent of urban literate Nigerians write Will, out of which 90 per cent of them are over 60 years, is not ideal. Edu noted that writing of Will was needed for the peaceful transfer of wealth from parents to wards or children and other beneficiaries, but had been grossly under utilised due to some obnoxious traditional beliefs that must be discarded.
He said that transference of wealth had generally been a problematic issue in the African society, due to the reticence of many towards writing of Will and its administration. Edu disagreed with the popularly held notion that only the affluent needed to write Will, stressing that anyone above the age of 40 years must accord the posthumous instrument premium attention.
Edu said; “It is always advisable not to die intestate, given the fact that obtaining a probate document for such individuals are quite cumbersome with its attendant discomforts and delays.”
On her part, President of the Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers, NCRIB, Mrs. Laide Osijo said that Nigerians should imbibe property perpetration culture in order to reduce friction and misery of their dependents after their exit in death.
While proffering solution to overcome the cumbersome process of obtaining letter of administration, a bank official, said; “I think to get rid of all these trauma and challenges, customers need to write to their banks stating categorically that in the event of death, a named person should be given access to their account with or without a will or letter of administration. In that case, the bank would have evidence to produce in case some other person comes to claim the same money in future.”
Meanwhile, one of the old generation banks told Vanguard, that filling next of kin when opening an account does not matter any longer. According to the Front Desk official of the bank who does not want her name mentioned, “What we require in our bank is for customers to produce a Will when they are alive, a letter of administration is only required after the death of a customer. So to avoid the bank demanding for a letter of administration from the next of kin, it is advisable for the customer while alive to prepare a Will. But if he or she does not do so and dies, then a letter of administration would be required.”