I recently lost my husband in a tragic road accident and it has turned my life upside down. Although he was fairly successful, he was just 45. We had so many plans and did not even think of getting a Will. To my surprise, his siblings have come to enquire about his property, asking that I let the family head distribute them. They assure me I will be well taken care of. I have always had a good relationship with them but I’m worried. Most of the property were acquired jointly though, titled Mr. & Mrs X. Does it matter? Can they take away our property from me, regardless?
Cynthia X, Port Harcourt
Dear Cynthia X,
I empathize with you concerning the loss of your husband and pray that you have the strength to bear this great loss.
More often than not, people make grandiose life plans, but either avoid or develop cold feet when faced with questions concerning mortality and the fact that anything could happen to anyone at any time. This denial would eventually come back to haunt loved ones who are left behind, as they are either thrown into confusion or conflict. It is therefore very important to plan for even the scariest and unimaginable events.
Extended family members often pick up interest in sharing the assets of deceased relatives especially if the deceased owned sizable or valuable assets. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that your late husband’s siblings are interested in his assets given that he was fairly successful.
I would consider you rather fortunate that your late husband and yourself had most of your property jointly owned. That way, you have some level of control over the assets. For your real estate assets that you own together, it is important to ascertain whether you (yourself and your deceased husband) hold the assets as “Tenants – in – common or in Joint Tenancy. This would determine whether you would inherit the jointly owned assets as survivor (in the case of Joint Ownership) or own a half of the property (in the case of tenancy-in-common) while the other half would be subject to intestate succession (as your husband passed away without a Will).
Regardless of what type of ownership exists on the assets, you have a measure of control over those assets and your late husband’s siblings would find it difficult to take over such assets, particularly if your marriage was contracted through a Marriage Registry or licensed Church through the Matrimonial Causes Act. In such a case, you may file for a Letter of Administration (L of A) to gain control of your late husband’s assets and would also be entitled to a third of most of his assets.
Let me know how it goes. Wishing you the best.