Letter of administration in Nigeria is the legal authority granted by the Probate Court to a person called the administrator or administratrix to administer the estate or property of a person who died intestate.
A person is said to have died intestate when he dies without leaving behind a valid Will. The administrator then derive his or her authority to act from the terms of the letters of administration, and where the letters of administration is not granted, an administrator lacks the authority to act as the properties of the deceased are deemed to be vested in the Chief Judge of the State.
Section 49(1) Administration of Estate Law, Lagos state laid down the persons that can apply for a grant of letter of administration in order of priority and where they are of equal priority, the court has discretion to select any who in its view is most suitable. These persons are generally called NEXT-OF-KIN of the deceased. Thus generally, it is the next-of-kin of the deceased that is entitled to apply for letters of administration in the following hierarchy:
– Surviving spouse(s) of the deceased
– Children of the deceased
– Parents of the deceased
– Brothers or sisters of the deceased of full blood or the children of such brother or sister who died in the life time of the deceased.
– Brother or sister of the deceased of half-blood or the children of such brother or sister who died in the life time of the deceased
– Grandparents of the deceased
– Uncles and aunts of full blood or their children

Letters of administration is granted upon application by a person entitled either personally or through his legal practitioner to the Probate registrar. Usually forms are issued to the applicant, to be returned, upon completion, to the probate registry.
Grant of letters of administration would not be made within three (3) months (in Lagos state) from the death of the testator where he died intestate and every application for grant of letters of administration are usually published to allow for objections and the filing of caveats.
It must be noted that letters of administration cannot be transferred or inherited. Furthermore, one person cannot be granted letters of administration. It can only be granted to at least two people. The only exception is where a Trust Corporation or the administrator general is appointed as sole administrator. The procedure for the application is as follows:
1) Application is made to the probate registrar. The letter should contain the following
– Full names of the deceased
– Date of death of the deceased
– Place of residence of the deceased shortly before his death
– Name of proposed administrators
2) The application shall be accompanied with the death certificate. Upon submission of the application, then forms will be given. Such forms include:
– Oath of Administration by the applicants
– Particulars of landed property left by the deceased
– Administration Bond to ensure that the grantee makes proper inventory, distributes the estate accordingly and pays out of all just debts.
– Affidavit/Declaration as to next-of-kin
– Bank certificate
– Inventory
– Passport photographs of applicant
– Justification for sureties
– Schedule of debts and funeral expenses
3) The forms upon filling them would be submitted
4) Publication would be made in the gazette or newspaper. This, in essence, is to invite and give the public or any interested person the opportunity to object and file a caveat to the grant of letters of administration to the applicant.
5) Objection may be raised within specified period for filing a caveat
6) Once no objection, upon the payment of the estate duties, the letters of administration would be granted.

There are various fees to be paid before letters of administration application can be evaluated and approved. Once letters of administration is approved by the Probate Registry, an Estate fee of 5% to 10% of the value of the Estate, depending on the State must be paid to the State Government where the Letters of administration application is made and approved.

The law that regulates the Estates of deceased persons, is the Administration of Estates Laws of different states of the federation of Nigeria.
The Administration of Estate Laws in Nigeria provide for a legal system of administration of the estate of deceased persons which entails the verification of the claims of persons claiming to be entitled to the estate of deceased persons and subsequently grant the authority or power to administer the estate to the persons who have passed through the verification process at the Probate Registry.
The Administration of Estates Law of Lagos State was as a result of adoption of a similar Administration of Estates Law of former Western State of Nigeria.
The Law was made with the intent to forestall the properties left behind by deceased persons from falling into the hands of unscrupulous persons and particularly those the deceased would not ordinarily wished to inherit his or her properties.
The Law do not apply to the distribution, inheritance or succession of the Estate of a deceased person whose affairs were regulated by customary law during his or her lifetime.
The entire process of obtaining Letters of Administration of an Estate can be cumbersome and grueling especially for persons not familiar with the process, because it deals with inheriting an estate of intestate persons.
However, the administrative of estate laws operated by different states in Nigeria have provided minimum guidelines on how the estate falling into intestacy can be carefully administered by the deceased next of kin.

Written by Family Law Team at Resolution Law Firm, Lagos, Nigeria
Tel: 08099223322