International Inheritance Laws



The succession of estate in law is truly an underappreciated aspect of law. Everyone wants to know what they are going to get when that, “beloved” rich uncle dies. Now let us say that rich uncle did not like one, or a few of his nieces or nephews. He is probably going to disinherit them in his will. He may even disinherit his neglectful children, who only call once a year to see if he died already. Each country has and region has its own way of doing things when it comes to the regulation of whom and whom not the “beloved” rich uncle can disinherit. The body of law that controls this regulation is the laws of intestacy. These Laws tell you whom and who not may make a will, and whom and whom they may disinherit in their will. For example, the laws of intestacy in Nigeria which shares common ancestry as the American system is a combination of English law, legislative enactments, customary law, and judicial precedents.

Because of our common English ancestry, the laws of intestacy in the Nigerian system are very similar to the American system. For example, the formalities of making a valid will which are provided in Section 9 of the Wills Act of 1837 says;



No Will Shall Be Valid Unless:


a. It shall be in writing:


b. It is signed by the Testator or signed in his presence and by his direction, in such place of the Will so that it is apparent on the face of the Will that the Testator intended to give effect to the signature to the writing signed as his Will.


c. The Testator makes or acknowledges the signature in the presence of at least two witnesses present at the same time.


d. The witnesses attest and subscribe the Will in the presence of the Testator but no form of attestation or publication shall be required.


e. No signature under this section or under any other provision of this law shall be operative to give effect to any disposition or direction, which is underneath or follows, nor shall it give effect to any disposition or direction inserted after the signature shall have been made.

The following essential requirements appear from the above provision:


i. A Will must be in writing or typed and not oral. Oral Wills (Nuncupative Wills) may be valid under customary law but are not covered by the Wills Law. The Nigerian courts have repeatedly held that the reduction into writing of an essentially customary law transaction does not alter its nature. Writing is no more than mere evidence of the transaction.3 Thus; it should not affect the nature of the disposition. Moreover, writing per se is not conclusive evidence that the English form is intended by the Testator. If a Will is written but does not comply with the requirements of the Wills Act, it would be treated as valid under customary law.


ii. A Will must be signed at the foot or end of the document by the Testator or by another person (   appointed by the Testator) in his presence and by his direction. The Testator must sign or acknowledge before the witnesses subscribe, or the Will, will be void for flawed execution. Signature here will include any mark intended to represent the name of the Testator e.g. thumb print, a cross, an initial, etc.


iii. The signature must be affixed in the presence of two or more witnesses present.

Aside from there being no requirement for attestation or publication in the making of a will in Nigeria as there is in the States, specifically New York, the requirements, and disqualifications of creating a will with minimal exceptions; the laws of intestacy in New York and Nigeria are parallel!

One of the exceptions the various ways that estate can be passed off in Nigeria. For example:


“There are various means by which a deceased’s estate can be administered, including under the Wills Law/Act, Customary law, and Islamic Law.” There are various means by which a deceased’s estate can be administered, including under the Wills Law/Act, Customary law, and Islamic Law. The laws that govern the practice and procedure for the administration of estate are a combination of received English laws (Under the English Common Law); and State laws (enacted by each state’s legislative assembly) applicable within the state. The Administration of Estate Law of Lagos State is one such example. Lagos State and most western states incorporated the provisions of the Administration of Estate Law of Western Nigeria 1959.

Where certain persons have applied for a grant of letters of administration in respect of an estate and are unable to establish their claims to the grant or fail to give any required security, the court may grant letters of administration to the Administrator-General of the state. In instances where the Administrator-General is appointed, the rules provide that where the administration of the estate is not completed within 18 months after the grant of letters of administration, the Administrator-General must file an interim statement of account in court. The interested parties are entitled to examine the Administrator-General’s statement.”

Although anyone in Nigeria may make a will, the age of testamentary capacity is eighteen. In addition, “In Nigeria, it is not common to donate power to an attorney or give directives as it relates to disability.”

Therefore, as long as your rich Nigerian uncle is of the age of majority and of sound mind and memory you had better call for a chat because just like in New York he can cut you out the will!