Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Meristem Registras and Probate Services Limited, Mubo Olasoko, In this interview with Ebere Nwoji, she spoke on the relevance of professional probate services firms in addressing challenges arising from sharing, transferring and collecting deceased pensioners’ assets
You are the MD /CEO of Meristem Registrars and Probate Services Limited, could you please throw light on your operations.
Like our name suggests, Meristem Registrars & Probate Services Limited engages in share registration and probate services. We are registrars to both private companies and companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange(NSE) as well as corporate and government bonds. Also, we render a one-stop shop delivering probate services to the members of the public and what does that entail? It is the process of helping beneficiaries of a deceased estate take possession of what has been left for them as a legacy whether the deceased died with or without a will. These services include: asset gathering; obtaining letters of administration or grant of probate; amendment of letters of administration; procurement of certificate of additional asset and transmission of the assets to the beneficiaries. This is essentially what the service is all about.
In other words, you help people to get letters of administration and others?
Yes, we do that. Going by the Administration Laws of all States in Nigeria, it is important for the family of the deceased that have died testate – where there is a will or intestate – where there is no Will to procure a legal document called Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration so as to administer the assets left behind by the deceased person. Therefore, what our organisation does is to take the brief of these categories of people to help them take possession of asset left behind by their late loved ones.
Why is getting this letter of administration very difficult in Nigeria and it denies people the right to claim the benefits left behind by their bread winners. For instance, in claiming pension benefits of deceased pensioners, the inability of their dependents to get the letters of administration has deprived many the opportunity of claiming such benefits, the result being that in the pension sub sector today, you have a lot of unclaimed benefits mainly from deceased pensioners. How can people easily get this letters of administration?
A number of factors are responsible, one main factor is that there are no companies set up to engage in probate services. Lawyers render the service as add-ons to their main business and so may not give the required attention to complete the process in record time. Secondly, the Probate Court has statutory number of days that you need to wait to get certain things done. For instance, if you are applying for letters of administration, there is a statutory period that the Probate Court needs to publicise the names of the deceased and the administrators for public knowledge in a national daily or gazette before making a decision as to confirming the suitability of the proposed administrators where there is no citation before they come up with the grant.
At best, if every factor is well taken care of, it would take about six months to complete the process which is hardly achieved.But at Meristem Registrars and Probate Services Limited, we have developed efficiency in ensuring good turnaround time for our clients and to ensure that benefits due to beneficiaries are not left hanging. Furthermore, delay in gathering the deceased assets across board, coming up with the estate fee payable to the government and meeting up with surety condition are some of the problems mitigating against swift delivery of Probate services which we have put machineries in place to combat these problems and deliver the service in record time.
You said there are no companies set up to do probate services, why are people not venturing into the business?
Well, probably because of the rigours of the business and also the knowledge gap, that may be why people don’t engage in the business since it may be cumbersome sometimes.
Is the industry regulated?
No, there is no regulator other than the requirement from the court and the law regulating the administration of estate as laid down in various states of the federation.
Let us talk about Will writing and people’s assets.Many Nigerians think writing a Will is like signing a death warrant. Could you please use this medium to educate people on the relevance of Will writing and guidelines on how to go about it.?
One major advantage of Will writing is the fact that it is the voice of the person after his death. It is like letter of wishes saying this is what I want to be done after I am out of the scene. The reason you have problem in most cases is that the person did not write a Will or set up a living trust. That means he did not leave a wish as to what should happen to his assets after his demise. So what do you see after the man has died, there is a lot of rancour, a lot of fighting within the family because wealth is involved and every family member wants a piece of the cake. But with a Will, family will mostly respect the wishes of the deceased. I say ‘mostly’ because Wills are sometimes contested. More often than not, problems arise where the intention of a deceased person was not spelt out in a Will.
Writing a Will helps to remove doubt as to how the deceased wants his assets shared. But where he fails to write his Will, he has created an opportunity for another person to decide how his assets will be shared which may not be favorable to him. I must add that there is no one too young to write a Will if the person possess assets of value and writing a Will does not mean a death wish. Wills can be updated using a codicil (an addendum to a Will) or can be rewritten entirely in the lifetime of the testator (the person writing the Will) and it is advisable that a professional is consulted to draft the Will in line with accepted practice.
There are some instances cases people write Will, yet when they die, their children will refuse to honour it. This happens even among the educated class. What causes this? Is it that the Will is not clearly stated or that the children refused to honour their father’s wish?
Yes, it happens. This could be because there are some clauses that are not clearly stated or the clauses in the Will are interpreted differently by the beneficiaries of the estate or some dependants are not well taken care of in the Will. Therefore, it depends on how the Will itself is constructed. The other thing that can also cause this to happen is where different versions of a Will is discovered for example a person writes a Will but needs to update it, rather than writing a codicil, another Will is written without discarding the first one and upon the death of the testator, there is confusion over which one is valid because there are two Wills. But generally, 80 per cent of the time, the family will respect the wish of the dead in as much as the Will pass the validity test and even if the Will is contested, the court is there to determine what is right and to uphold the law of the land. Hence, Will writing is very important.
Still on accessing benefits of the deceased by his dependents, some people have huge money in their account but at death accessing these benefits by their dependants is usually difficult for instance to access the person’s pension benefits the law says the employer, be it government or private employer should contribute to the person’s Retirement Savings Account, but at death some deceased person’s benefits are hanged because of difficult conditions attached to its collection. What can a company like yours do to help such dependants access this money hanging in the deceased’ or employer’s account?
I think we all have a responsibility of ensuring that what benefit that is accruable to us we get it. One way to get it is if I am working in a government establishment’s and my pension is being deducted and government is also to add something, I should know whether that remittance is being done for me. If it is not being done for me then I have the responsibility to make sure that the money gets to me. What you are saying is practical, some people will come around with the belief that their parents or relatives have so much. Unfortunately, those monies are not with PFA’s. If it is with PFAs, it is easy to collect but unfortunately the employers have been deducting the money but they are not remitting and PFAs cannot pay what they do not have. Employees in such a situation should form pressure groups to ensure that what is due to them gets to them or they resort to legal redress. Given the kind of service you render, assuming I contracted you now to manage my estate and of course you know that the huge money in my pension account is part of my estate you are managing, don’t you think that you also handling my Will should pay attention to see if this huge money is in my pension account.
Definitely, there is no how you have a professional portfolio manager and that kind of thing will happen because questions will be asked. Okay, you have this huge money in your pension account where it is being managed by PFA. So a professional person will help you to make sure the money gets into your account. But the problem is with our people, because of the little money they have to pay for agency service, they refuse to do what they need to do without thinking that what they stand to lose is much more than the agency fee they will pay. In Nigeria, we don’t use so much of professionals. We want to do it by ourselves. Even with the procurement of this letter of administration, tell families of the deceased to pay a certain amount of money to get professional service to be able to get their deceased asset worth millions of Naira that is hanging, they will refuse and will go round for years before they come back to a professional. It is very important to use professionals, considering the pros and cons coupled with cost benefit a professional will offer.
So what message do you have for pensioners now that they are alive?
In the course rendering probate services, we have come to see challenges people pass through especially with PFAs in getting their money and that is why one of our subsidiaries, Meristem Trustees Limited came up with service of preparing a simple Will that will transfer the deceased pensioner money in bank and fund with the PFA to the beneficiaries in the Will once the account holder is late. This makes the transfer seamless and stress- free. Against the background, we advise the pensioners to subscribe to this product so that they can properly plan their estate when they are alive and a seamless transmission of their asset to the beneficiaries of their choice can be achieved by professionals in a timely manner.