As told to Boluwatife

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One of the worst things you can experience as a Nigerian is trying to access the funds of a relative who died without a legal will. 

I speak from experience. 

My aunt passed away in 2020, and we’re still struggling to access her pension.  It’s one reason I now advise anyone going for even the smallest medical procedure to get a probate-stamped document from a high court so someone else can access your money, at the very least.

But back to our struggle.

My aunt first became ill in 2017. She’d had a medical procedure which led to complications, leaving her bedridden and unable to feed without a stomach tube. She basically lived in the hospital for the three years that she was ill. And the bills? They ran into ₦1.2m weekly.

The illness took her job at a government parastatal, where she’d worked for 16 years. The government didn’t pay her hospital bills, and they made her resign after the first year. When the parastatal’s medical team visited and saw her condition, they decided they couldn’t keep paying someone who couldn’t work. The salary in question was just a little over ₦100k/month.

At my aunt’s place of work, you don’t just resign and go home. You have to submit clearance documents at several offices to update your employment status. I helped her husband with this clearance process — which took months. I thought that was stressful, until the real stress came.

When she passed away in 2020, we assumed accessing her pension of almost ₦6m would be straightforward. She and her husband kept no secrets; that’s how we knew about the pension in the first place. He also knew her passwords, and they even had joint properties.  But there was no will, and that was the problem. Although he was the next of kin, he couldn’t access the funds unless a court gave him a document called a Letter of Administration. That was the first hurdle.

Getting a Letter of Administration in Nigeria can take as much as five years. You’ll need to hire a lawyer, pay them 10% of whatever property you want to claim, and then try to survive the many court delays.

You’ll also need two administrators for court approval: a spouse and another family member. 

So, I stood in with her husband, as they didn’t have children. Fortunately, we had a well-known lawyer who fast-tracked the process, and we got the Letter of Administration after one year.

The next step was getting cleared to receive pension benefits from the government parastatal where my aunt worked. We had to provide pay slips, show evidence that she didn’t owe anything and meet several other requirements. At one point, we heard that the place where they kept some documents we needed for clearance got burnt. Again, we had people on the inside who helped fast-track the process, but even with that, it took another year to complete the clearance.

The bank runs came next. 

The deceased’s account had to be changed to an estate account, so the administrators (her husband and I) would be signatories and be able to access the funds in it. This was the account where the pension fund would go. It took another couple of weeks to update the account.

With that done, we could now move to the pension fund administrator (PFA). But there was one thing standing in our way: The Nigerian government. 

For individuals who work with private organisations, pension payment is straightforward. Your employer deducts the monthly pension from your salary and remits it to the PFA. For government workers, however, the pension is deducted from the salary but isn’t remitted to the PFA for years. So, you could have a pension account with a PFA, but there wouldn’t be money inside.

That was what happened to my aunty. When we arrived at the PFA in March 2023, they told us that PENCOM, the regulatory body for pensions in Nigeria, hadn’t remitted any pension fund to her account for the entire number of years she’d worked. The money was essentially in the air.

The only thing the PFA could do was write PENCOM, requesting the funds so they could pay us. They also told us that the payment could take as much as three years to come in. Apparently, PENCOM gives preference to retirees over the family of deceased pensioners.

At this point, we can only keep disturbing the PFA to send reminders to PENCOM. We’ve spent so much money and time on this in the last three years, and it looks like we have one or two more years to go. I’m tired and have accepted the possibility that it might even take longer.

I’ll say it again: Please go to any high court and get a probate-stamped document, indicating who you want your money to go to if something happens to you. The last I checked, it cost about ₦10k. Save your family the stress.

We’re celebrating the Nigerian culture of meat and barbecue with Burning Ram on November 11. Get tickets here.

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