Nigeria: How To Take Over The Property Of Someone Who Has Died

Last Updated: 16 January 2018
Article by Edoabasi Udo

If someone has died leaving behind money in the bank, landed properties or personal belongings, and you want to take over these assets, or want to administer, manage, distribute, or sell off the assets; the following is a guide on what you need to do.

What You Should Note

The estate of the deceased is vested in the Chief Judge of the State. Before you can take over or assume control over the estate of someone who has died, you have to first obtain the letter of administration from the Probate Court to become the administrator of the deceased's estate. Without being appointed the administrator, meddling with the estate of the Deceased is illegal and you may face civil and criminal liabilities.

When Can You Be Granted the Letter of Administration?

A letter of administration may be granted after 14 days, where the deceased died intestate (i.e. without leaving a valid Will); or 7 days where there is partial intestacy. Partial intestacy may arise where there is absence of residuary clause in a valid Will; or where the testator (the deceased) does not have executors to carry out his instruction as contained in the Will. Not having executor(s) may arise where the deceased made a Will without appointing executors; or the executors who he appointed had died; or the executors are underage; or the executors are resident abroad, or have refused to act or have renounced the probate.

Who Is Entitled to Obtain the Letter of Administration over the Deceased Estate?

Where the deceased had married his spouse under the Marriage Act (what in layman's term is known as "White Wedding" or "Court Marriage"), he is not subject to the traditional practice of inheritance or succession principle under his native law and custom. In other words, the distribution and inheritance of his property or succession to his estate will be based on the Administration of Estate Law, and not according to the local traditions and native laws and customs of the locality he hailed from.

The following is the order of priority of persons entitled to the grant of probate in testate succession (i.e. with Will annexed):

  1. The executor;
  2. Any residuary legatee holding in trust for any other person (that is, where the residuary estate is subject to a trust);
  3. Any residuary legatee or devisee for life;
  4. The ultimate residuary legatee or devisee, including one entitled on the happening of any contingency;
  5. Any specific legatee or devisee or creditor or their personal representative;
  6. Any specific legatee or devisee entitled on the happening of any contingency, or next-of-kin.

The order of priority of persons entitled to grant of letters of administration in intestate succession (i.e. without Will attached) are as follows:

  1. The surviving spouse
  2. Children of the deceased or grandchildren of deceased whose parent died during the life time of the deceased.
  3. Father or mother of the deceased.
  4. Brothers or sisters of the deceased of full blood
  5. Half Brother(s) and sister(s) of the Deceased.
  6. Grandfather or grandmother of the deceased.
  7. Uncles and Aunts.
  8. Creditors of the deceased.
  9. Administrator-General

How to Obtain Letter of Administration (With Will Attached)

Where the deceased died testate (with a valid Last Will), you need to consult a Solicitor to make an application on your behalf to obtain the Letter of Administration. The Solicitor shall satisfy the Probate Registrar about the reason for the absence of the executor that was appointed by the deceased in his Will. The Solicitor shall lead evidence to prove that the executor is dead, or he renounced his executorship, or he is an infant, or he is abroad and has appointed an attorney to apply for the grant, any of these facts must be proved by tendering the relevant documents. Thereafter, the Probate Registrar shall inspect the Will to ensure that it was properly executed and attested.

How to Obtain Letter of Administration (Without Will Attached)

In some states, the law prescribes a minimum of 2 persons and maximum of 4 persons to administer the estate of the deceased, except predicated on a legal exception. Thus, if you and 1 or 3 other family members fall suitably amongst the persons listed above in their order of priority, what you need to do to obtain the Letter of Administration where the deceased died intestate (without a valid Last Will) is to consult a Solicitor who will make an application to the Probate Registrar on your behalf.

What Documents May be Required for the Grant of Letter of Administration?

At the consultation with your Solicitor, you will need to present the originals of the following documents:

  1. Death Certificate of the deceased obtained from the National Population Commission
  2. Marriage Certificate/Affidavit of Marriage of the deceased and his spouse
  3. Certified True Copy of the deceased record of service (if he was a public officer and you want to receive his salary/pension arrears)
  4. Retirement Letter/Pension ID Card (if the deceased was a pensioner)
  5. Passport photographs and valid means of identification of you and other proposed administrators.

You will further provide the following details: Full names of the deceased; Date of birth of the deceased; Last known address of the deceased; Occupation of the deceased; Marital status of the deceased; Name of deceased' spouse and children (if any); Date and place of death of the deceased; Your name and the names of the other proposed administrators; Relationship between the deceased and you and other proposed administrators).

Actions Your Solicitor Will Take

  1. Obtaining Authority to Act. After due consultation and evaluation of the documents and information you have provided, the Solicitor will issue you a letter of engagement to sign and to act on your behalf in connection with obtaining the Letter of Administration (with or without Will annexed) from the Probates Registry.
  2. Formal Application. Your Solicitor shall submit an Application letter in prescribed form and may accompany same with copies of the documents listed above and the following documents:

    1. Oath of Administration (with or without Will attached)
    2. Administration Bonds (with or without Will attached)
    3. Renunciation of administration (Will attached)
    4. Statutory Affidavit of the next of kin
    5. Inventory of moveable and immovable assets of the deceased
    6. Schedule of Debts owed by the deceased
    7. Justification of sureties
    8. Particulars of freehold/leasehold property left by the deceased.
    9. Schedule of Funeral Expenses of the deceased
    10. Bank or Share Certificate (showing the balances of the deceased's bank account(s) or company shareholding, respectively).
  1. Publication of Notice. Your Solicitor shall thereafter notify the general public by way of publication in a newspaper, a Notice of Application for the Grant of Letters of Administration over the deceased's estate in the name of the proposed administrators.
  2. Court Representation. Where there is an objection to the Application for the Grant of Letters of Administration over the deceased's estate in your name or the other proposed administrators, your Solicitor shall issue a Warning to the Caveator(s) and a writ for the Probate Court to determine the merit or otherwise of the caveat for the purpose of granting or refusing the grant of the Letter of Administration. Where at the expiration of the publication notice, there is no objection entered by way of caveat, your Solicitor shall move the Probates Court to proceed to grant the Letter of Administration in favour of the proposed administrators.
  3. Payment of Prescribed Fees. In the course of obtaining the Letter of Administration, your Solicitor may be required to pay certain fees such as: Publication Fee, Estate Fee, etc. as administrative charges and government taxes.
  4. Collection of Letter of Administration. After due compliance with all the laid down requirements, the Probate Registrar shall direct a grant of Letter of Administration Order to be enrolled for the Chief Judge of the State to sign. Thereafter, the final instrument of the Grant of Letter of Administration is prepared and signed by the Probate Registrar for collection. Letter of Administration will be issued to you through your Solicitor. Armed with the Letter of Administration, you and other named Administrators shall have the legitimate power and authority to take over full control of the estate of the deceased, and have the power to manage, share, distribute, or sell the deceased's estate, or initiate or defend legal proceedings thereto.

WHAT TO DO NEXT?

It may interest you to know that even where you are one of the persons suitably entitled to obtain the letter of administration of the deceased's estate, the law does not make it automatic for you and other proposed administrators to meddle with the estate of the deceased in any manner without the Letter of Administration obtained. Doing so may cause you to be prosecuted for both civil and criminal liabilities. Letter of Administration will be granted through an Order of the Chief Judge of the State who is the head of the Probate Court.

Obtaining the Letter of Administration is, however, a very rigorous process and fraught with procedural and technical complexities. It is important you seek legal guidance and help from a Solicitor who will assist you to apply and obtain the letter with ease, devoid of the problems and frustration associated with that process.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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