“Surely I am far too young to have an estate plan.” Many young people see no reason why they should start thinking of their demise when they are just starting out. Yet, imagine the lengths to which we go, in ensuring that our children are taken care of when we are just away from home or at work. We check references of nannies and baby-sitters, we ensure that there are contact details in case of any emergency, and we leave clear instructions as to exactly how we would like our children to be cared for every hour of the day. Why then, would one delegate far reaching decisions as to their care or what should happen to your children should you never come back?
Thirty-year old Charles Thomas was a brilliant young engineer at Denver Engineering. He was married to Charity and they had two lovely children, three-year old Cynthia and her brother Christopher who just celebrated his first birthday. On a trip to Ibadan to attend his best friends wedding Charles was in a head on collision with a bus that ran out of control. He was killed instantly.
Since she and Charles were married, 28-year old Charity had not worked and was totally dependent on her husband’s income for all the family’s needs. Charles died intestate; that is, without a will. When he joined Denver six years ago, he had completed the required documentation and since he was a bachelor, had designated his father as his Next of Kin. When she visited her late husband’s employer to enquire about his final entitlements, Charity was shocked to learn that his designated beneficiary was his 72-year old father who had 2 wives and 8 young children that stood to benefit from all his entitlements. Since he got married to Charity four years ago, Charles had forgotten to update his form.
Sadly, Charity had not developed a warm, cordial relationship with her in-laws, and received no support from them. Years of hardship and drastic change ensued; Christopher had to be withdrawn from his private school to be enrolled in a more affordable public school. They also had to move from their rented apartment in Lekki, as rent was due the month after Charles died, to a friends’ chalet whilst Charity began to review her options.
This story is all too common. Many people begin their work life as spinsters or bachelors at a time when it would have seemed natural to put down the name of a family member such as a parent or sibling as their “Next of Kin.” As the years go by, many forget whom they designated, until it is too late. When people fail to amend these important records, it is their designated next of kin that will be officially recognized should the need arise. Where there is no will, many institutions will rely upon these records to carry out the wishes of the deceased. In some cases, the Next of Kin has since passed on which makes the issue all the more complicated.
In Western cultures, the choice of the spouse as next of kin is the most obvious one; the mother of his children is generally the person in whom a man places the most trust. In Nigeria, it is more common for a man to choose his brother as next of kin. In the event of the husband’s death making the wife your next of kin will save her and the children much hardship given the traditional extended family system where some family members might forcefully claim their brothers property. There are numerous examples of widows having to cope with not only the loss of their spouse but also of all their personal possessions and property.
Who is your next of kin? At some time or the other, you have probably had to fill out a form or some other documentation where you had to clearly state your next of kin. Many people don’t take this designation that seriously, yet this is an important issue particularly where the documentation you are completing relates to money matters such as banking and insurance transactions and investments in stocks, real estate, or a business. The filling of this simple form to reflect current realities can have far-reaching consequences that will either protect or cause enormous hardship to the ones you love.
Once you are married it is also important to revisit your will if you have one, to include your spouse as a beneficiary. If you have not yet written a will, it is a good time to consider this as you now have new responsibilities. Many people assume that if they pass on, their spouse will automatically become beneficiary to their estate. If you were to die intestate, that is, without leaving a will, your property will not simply pass to your spouse as you might think; strict rules rank your next of kin, and your property will be distributed according to laws of intestacy, which may vary from state to state.
It is only by having a valid will or other estate planning mechanism in place that you can protect your immediate family, including your spouse and children, and ensure that your investments and property do not go into the wrong hands following your demise.
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