Chief Executive of Stanbic IBTC Trustees Limited (SITL) Mrs. Binta Max-Gbinijeb spoke on some fundamental issues concerning Wills and estate planning in Nigeria. Excerpt:

By Rosemary Onuoha

PLEASE give us an environmental scan of the Trusteeship business in Nigeria. How will you appraise this sector of the financial services industry?

The Trusteeship sector in Nigeria is one of the emerging giant sectors of the economy. Over the years, we have seen the emergence of several Trustee companies springing up across the country.

•Mrs. Binta Max-Gbinijeb

The need for Corporate Trustees has been on the rise in many commercial ways which may not be popular to those who aren’t players in the capital market. Trustees are there where corporate or government bonds are to be issued, where there are public investment funds and schemes to be managed, just to mention but a few. Thus, I dare to say that the trusteeship industry is a fast growing sector in Nigeria.

Informally, trusteeship is an old practice among various ethnic groups in Nigeria. For instance, it is not unusual for a man with young children to put his property in the care of a trusted friend or family member for onward transfer to his children when they come of age.

That may be a form of verbal will or estate planning. Can you talk briefly to Will writing/estate planning, in relation to some of the prevailing cultural practices or any other inheritance practice?

As Africans we have had several customs and traditions regarding inheritance of a deceased person’s assets, for example the primogeniture customary practice, which leaves the whole of the deceased’s assets to the eldest son as inheritance or those that disenfranchises female offspring of a deceased from any inheritance. These have over the years resulted in family squabbles and some discord.

One easy way to resolve such would be to engage in a proper estate planning exercise which would require a person to do any of or a combination of the following – write a Will, which clearly states his or her decision and intention regarding the management of the assets left behind:   Under the laws of Nigeria, a Will written by a person, supersedes whatever customary or religious practice that such person is subject to. Similarly, an individual can set up a Trust where all or some of his assets are transferred to a Trustees to hold and manage in line with pre-agreed terms contained in a Trust Deed or any other document.

Here the assets would no longer be in the name or possession of the deceased person but rather with the Trustees and as such the property is given the required shield from meddlesome interlopers.

Making adequate preparation

There is also inter vivos gift, where a person can transfer his assets to any desired beneficiary in his life time to avoid doubt or arguments in his absence.

Is Wills writing and estate planning really a death wish? Why the morbidity around Will writing in this part of the world?

Writing a Will is definitely not a death wish but could rather be seen as an acknowledgement of the fact of the inevitable and making adequate preparation for it. In an ironic twist, a survey conducted in the United Kingdom showed that people who wrote their wills actually lived longer lives!

So if you ask me, there is a very good reason to even write one – write a will, live longer!

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