By Bennybonny Eucharia
The new Finance Act which commenced on the 1st day of January, 2021 says that all Nigerian banks are mandated to transfer monies dormant in bank accounts for 6 years and above to Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund (to be managed by the Debt Management Office).
Section 77 (2) of the Finance Act, 2020 stipulates:
“…..Any unutilized amount in dormant bank account maintained in or by a deposit money bank which has remained unclaimed or unutilized for a period of not less than six years from the date of declaring the dividend or domiciling the funds in a bank shall be transferred immediately to the Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund….”
How does this new law affect Letters of Administration? Well, let me tell you. Many of those dormant bank accounts are owned by dead people. Also, there are many beneficiaries who lost their loved ones years ago and because of many factors, they have not been able to access and claim the monies in bank of their deceased loved ones. The requisite legal document, that is, the Letters of Administration may have been taking so long to obtain and has therefore left the deceased’s bank account dormant with unclaimed funds.
Some of those factors that have contributed to unclaimed funds in dormant deceased persons’ bank accounts are:
Abandonment of the rigorous process of Letters of Administration at the Probate, by frustrated beneficiaries:
This problem is usually encountered by beneficiaries who choose to do without the services of Probate lawyers. They keep going back and forth because they know little or nothing about the whole process of Letters of Administration. One of the numerous great benefits of engaging the services of a Probate lawyer is that the administrators/ beneficiaries will visit the Probate only once throughout the entire process and that is during the interview stage. It takes not more than three months from the date of the interview to have the Grant of Letters of Administration ready.
Objection raised by somebody somewhere against the application for the grant of Letters of Administration:
This usually happens where the intestate deceased lived a complicated lifestyle like having children together with different women. In this case, balancing of the interest of all the beneficiaries and children becomes very difficult. The whole process for Letters of Administration will usually be stalled because of a caveat /objection raised by one or more dissenting dependents of the deceased. I have met a situation where a “baby-mama” of the deceased entered a caveat against our client’s application on the grounds that her adult male children where the biological and direct children/dependents of the deceased and therefore ought to be joined together with the lawful wife of the deceased as administrators to the estate of the deceased. Of course her application failed because she lacked the locus, among many other reasons.
Unavailability of Administrators to continue the process of obtaining Letters of Administration either by relocation or death of one or all of the Administrators:
Issues of this nature are rampant at the Probate. Application for change of administrator will be made where one of the Administrators suddenly becomes unwilling or unavailable to continue the process, but before the issuance of the Grant of Letters of Administration. However, if any of the administrators becomes unavailable or unwilling after the Grant of Letters of Administration has been made, then a High Court Order to substitute the unavailable administrator will be needed.
Inability of administrators or beneficiaries to raise monies to pay the estate fees payable to the state government:
For beneficiaries encountering financial constraints in the payment of the Estate fees, usually very little above 10% for monies in bank, the Law provides for the Estate fees to be deducted from deceased’s bank account. Your Probate lawyer will know what to do in whatever case.
Difficulty in gathering all the significant assets involving local and international businesses, landed properties or other assets owned by the deceased.
Incessant corrections and amendments of Letters of Administration which prolongs the duration of the dormancy of the unclaimed deceased’s funds in bank.
For whatever reason the deceased’s monies have remained unclaimed or for which the legal document (Letters of Administration) have not been procured from the Probate, there is always a way out. Feel free to talk with an expert and find answers to your legal issues. Even in cases of financial constraints, numerous payment plans are readily available for your choice.
Meanwhile, I will not forget to also tell you that the same Finance Act also provides that where unclaimed funds are transferred to the Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund, beneficiaries can subsequently claim them back at any time together with the interest accrued thereon. But how seamless and easy will the reclaiming process be when nobody’s consent was sought in the first place by the Federal Government before borrowing the unclaimed dormant Funds? For now, there are yet no provisions in the Act as to how to recover or reclaim the monies from the said Trust Fund. Even if the Government comes up tomorrow with procedures for recovery, the process will assuredly be tedious and impossible with attendant bureaucracy, endemic corruption and unnecessary documentary requirements.
It is better late than never. Hurry to commence or recommence your abandoned process for Letters of Administration to avoid stories that touch the heart.
By BENNYBONNY EUCHARIA, a Lagos-Based Litigation Lawyer
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