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Next of Kin Equals Right of Inheritance ?

The legal implication of assigning an individual as “Next of Kin” has to a large extent been misunderstood by the  general public. Many people assume, though erroneously, that once you are appointed the next of kin of a person, it automatically gives you the right to inherit the person’s estate upon demise. In fact, many people think that, being next of kin  confers an exclusive right over the  properties of the deceased. This is far from correct.
The above view and misunderstanding of next of Kinship has made many people dispense with the need to make a Will. Some persons believe that appointing a Next of Kin, is a way of naming the beneficiary of their estate and that assumption is not in conformity with the law.

The term, next of Kin has been described as the nearest blood relative of a person. See JOSEPH v FAJEMILEHIN O.O & Anor (2012) LPELR-9849(CA).  The term can also refer to a person who can be contacted or notified in cases of emergencies or eventualities. For instance, one of the forms that is usually filled while on transit, requires the information of next of kin. This is needed where there is an accident involving that person, their next of kin will be notified first.

Also, around the hospital environment or for situations that have to do with medical emergencies, a next of kin means a person who can make medical decisions where an individual is incapacitated or unable to do so for his or herself. The term is also frequently used in finance related documents by banks and other financial institutions. In this instance, next of kin means a person who can ensure that the proper steps are taken towards the recovery of the money held at the bank, at the demise of the owner. In other words, being a next of kin of a person, as regards his money in the bank, does not give a right to inherit such money, either partly or whole.

It must be noted that appointment of a next of Kin is not a substitute for the making of a valid WILL. The reason is because, when a person dies testate (that is, the person made a valid Will), the matter of next of kin is of little or no relevance. The estate of a deceased person who dies testate is distributed strictly according to the Will. Thus, his next of kin will only be entitled to such estate or part thereof if the WILL says so.

On the other hand, in a situation where the deceased died intestate (that is, without making a valid Will), the question of the distribution of his estate is governed by the law. The customary law/Islamic law or the Administration of Estate Law will apply depending on the kind of marriage contracted by the deceased. If the deceased contracted a statutory marriage (popularly known as court marriage), the distribution of his estate shall be governed by either the English Law or the Administration of Estate Law. See OBUZEZ V OBUZEZ (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt.1043) 430. It must be noted that the Administration of Estate Law provides for the order of inheritance which must be complied with strictly and a next of kin, is not among the categories of those entitled to inheritance in this instance.

Succession is regulated by law. It is only those entitled by law to inherit a deceased person’s estate that can do so. A next of Kin is not one of such persons. However, this is without prejudice to his right to inherit on a personal ground. Thus, if the person so named as a next of kin is the son of the deceased, he is entitled to inherit, not as a next of kin, but because he is the legitimate son of the deceased. Also, if the person so named as a next of kin, is also named in a valid Will made by the deceased, he is entitled to an inheritance not because he is a next of kin, rather, because he is named in the WILL.

A next of kin, who is usually a blood relative, though not always, has no legal right of inheritance by virtue of his status as a next of kin simpliciter. However, it must be noted that the appointment of a next of kin is not a means or method of naming an heir. A next of Kin is not recognized as an heir under Nigerian laws governing succession. Flowing form the above, next of kin, stricto sensu, does not by any stretch of imagination confer on the person so named an automatic right of inheritance. If the person so named as a next of kin is not entitled either by the WILL or by other laws of inheritance, to inherit, he cannot be conferred with the right of inheritance by the mere fact that he is named as a next of kin.

It is hereby submitted that when it comes to the law of succession, the term next of kin has no legal implication. It therefore does not confer the right of inheritance. Thus, it is erroneous for anyone to claim any inheritance on the singularly reason that he is named as a next of kin.
HRF represented Mr. Sunday Ogunleye. The indigent inmate was discharged and acquitted on January 28 at the Olokuta Hgh Court, Ondo State.  He had been in custody for 30 months.

L-R :  Released Inmate – Sunday Ogunleye, HRF Volunteer Legal Services – Bunmi Akinola.
HRF facilitated the release of Mr. Lucky Lamidi. The case was struck out for Want of Diligent Prosecution on February 23, 2021 at the Ondo State High Court, Akure, Ondo State.  He had been incarcerated for 21 months.

L-R : HRF Volunteer Legal Services – A.Y. Aliyu, Released Inmate – Lucky Lamidi.

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