In order for us to come to an understanding of what the rights, duties and obligations are accrued to next of kin in Nigeria, we must first of all understand what the word next of kin means.
The BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY defines the word next of kin to mean a person or persons most closely related to a decedent by blood or affinity. In other words one’s next of kin is one’s relative. It also defines the word next of kin to mean an intestate’s heirs – that is, the person or persons entitled to inherit personal property from a decedent who has not left a will. In other words a next of kin is a family member or one’s relative,
In society especially African societies the importance of family otherwise called the next of kin cannot be overemphasized as such there are various rights and obligations in which are accrued to being one’s Next of Kin or family member. These rights and duties are in relation to the letter of administration in which is explained below.
- Inheritance: The Next of Kin might have a case to the departed individual’s estate in situations where there is no substantial will or testamentary report. The Inheritance laws could be different in terms of customary, religious, or statutory laws, contingent upon the circumstance. In other words if a man dies intestate (dies without writing a will) his next of kin namely His wife, Children, Grandchildren, His parents, Grandparents, Siblings, Uncle and Aunt have a right to inherent the property of the deceased.
- Letter of Administration: A Letter of Administration is a document issued by the Court conferring authority to deal with the estate property of a deceased person on behalf of the beneficiaries of the estate. When a person dies intestate, i.e. without a Will, or a Will is rendered invalid, certain parties are allowed under the law to apply to manage the estate of the deceased persons. In other words a letter of administration is a document issued by the Court of law to enforce the distribution of the deceased properties amongst his relatives in cases where the deceased did not create a will before his demise.
The letter of administration is a legal document that gives the next of kin the right to manage the estate of the deceased person.
- Administering the estate: The next of kin, acting as the administrator, is granted the authority to administer and distribute the decedent’s property in accordance with the intestacy laws. This includes identifying and gathering the deceased’s assets, paying off debts, and distributing the remaining estate to the rightful heirs. This refers to the method involved with managing and distributing the assets and liabilities of a deceased individual, known as the decedent. The individual liable for administering the estate is either the executor (if there is a valid will) or the administrator (if there is no will or the executor cannot fulfill their duties) This interaction includes different undertakings and obligations, and it’s fundamental to comprehend the means in question.
- Managing finances: The administrator can access and manage the deceased’s financial accounts, pay outstanding bills, and deal with financial matters on behalf of the estate. In other words the next of kin chosen as an administrator has the right to make financial decisions in relation to the deceased’s estate. Managing finances is a crucial aspect of the estate administration process for the next of kin or the appointed administrator. It involves handling all financial matters related to the deceased’s estate in a responsible and transparent manner.
- Making legal decisions: As the next of kin, the administrator has the authority to decide on issues like selling property, resolving legal claims, and, if required, representing the estate in court.
- Legal Representation: The Next of Kin might be expected to go about as a lawful delegate for the individual in different legitimate issues. Notwithstanding the particular obligations connected with administering the estate through a letter of administration, the next of kin may also be expected to act as a legal representative or agent for the deceased person in various other legal matters.
- Fiduciary duty: The administrator has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. This implies they should deal with the estate capably, responsibly, and diligently, keeping away from any irreconcilable circumstances. Fiduciary duty is a legal and moral commitment that emerges when one individual (the trustee) is given the care, management, and protection of the interests of someone else or a group of people (the beneficiary). The trustee is expected to act to the greatest advantage of the beneficiary, he is to act in “Uberrimae Fidei” (utmost good faith) placing the beneficiary’s interests above his own and avoiding any conflicts of interest that could compromise his duty.
- Valuation of the Estate of the Deceased: The Next of Kin chosen as the administrator is responsible for creating an inventory of the deceased’s assets and liabilities and obtaining the value of those assets. This information is sacrosanct, imperative and necessary for the proper and equitable distribution of the estate. The next of kin must compile a comprehensive list of all the assets and liabilities of the deceased person. This includes bank account statements, property, investments, debts, and any other relevant financial information.
- Distribution according to intestacy laws: The administrator must distribute the assets of the estate according to the laws of intestacy. Generally, this means that the estate will be distributed among the surviving spouse, children, parents, and other close relatives, depending on the jurisdiction’s laws. It refers to the most common way of conveying a departed individual’s estate when they die without leaving a substantial will or when the will is considered invalid. In such cases, the conveyance of the estate is represented by the laws of intestacy, which vary from one jurisdiction to another. The laws of intestacy commonly frame an order of potential beneficiaries who are qualified for acquire the departed individual’s resources.
- Settling debts and taxes: The administrator is responsible for paying off any outstanding debts and taxes owed by the deceased and the estate. Settling debts and taxes is significant in administering an estate when somebody dies. At the point when an individual passes on, their estate(i.e., their resources and liabilities) turns into a separate legal entity, and it is the obligation of the administrator (if there is no will) to deal with the monetary undertakings, including settling debts and taxes.
In conclusion, the next of kin in Nigeria play a crucial role in the process of administering the estate of a deceased person who died intestate (without a valid will). After acquiring the Letters of Administration from the court, next of kin receives legal authority to oversee and appropriate the in accordance with the laws of intestacy. I stated that the rights of the next of kin include the inheritance of the deceased’s assets, the possession of the letter of administration the administration of the estate, distribution of assets among beneficiaries, settling debts and liabilities. I also made mention that it is the duty of the Next of Kin chosen as the administrator to act in Uberrimae Fidei a latin maxim which in English means Utmost Good Faith. As well the fact that the administrators have the obligation to apply for the Letters of Administration, prepare a valuation of the estate, notify creditors and beneficiaries of the Estate’s value and list of assets and laibilties left behind by the deceased, and the distribution of the assets according to the intestacy law.
Given the legal and administrative complexities involved in handling the estate of a deceased person, it is necessary for the next of kin consult a legal practitioner in order to ensure that they fulfill their responsibilities appropriately and in compliance with the law. Each state in Nigeria may have specific rules and procedures, so seeking professional guidance can help facilitate a smooth and lawful administration of the deceased’s estate.
 BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY
 https://aocsolicitors.com.ng/procedure-for-obtaining-letters-of-administration-in-lagos-state-aoc-solicitors/Written by: Victor Ayodele