ADDRESSING CHALLENGES IN ACCESSING DECEASED FUNDS TO REDUCE POVERTY AND DEPENDENCY IN GHANA

The Institute for Liberty and Policy Innovation (ILAPI), Free Enterprise Policy Think Tank produces a study report titled “Ending Family Poverty: Unlocking the Funds of a Deceased Relative by Beneficiaries and Next of Kin.”

Accra, Monday, November 27 – Ghana’s 67.4% total dependency ratio presents an enormous challenge because over half of its citizens—including spouses and children—rely on the working class, which makes up just 32.6% of the population, for their livelihood. This leads to economic stress by placing a great deal of pressure on the productive part of the population. With 23.4% of Ghanaians living in monetary poverty and the quarterly multidimensional poverty report 2022 of the Ghana Statistical Service denotes 46% of the population are multidimensionally poor. Addressing and reducing poverty is a multifaceted challenge, and any hindrance to accessing resources can have a detrimental impact on the fight against poverty.

One major issue, hampering economic prosperity in Ghana is the administrative bottlenecks in accessing government services. One of such is the inability of Beneficiaries, Next of Kin (NoK), and Nominees to access the funds at the Insurance, Banks and Pension firms of a deceased family relative who died intestate or through an accident. Accessing these funds is essential for the financial and economic well-being of surviving spouses, children, and the wider family, thereby improving human dignity. However, the administrative processes are cumbersome due to unclear documentation and procedures, cost, and ignorance resulting in many families being enveloped by poverty.

This study has revealed several critical findings including:

Bureaucratic Processes Hindering Access: The process of accessing deceased funds is often fraught with long administrative bottlenecks, documentation, structural challenges, inadequate decentralized law enforcement agencies, and associated costs. Although the Banks, Insurance and Pension firms form the financial sector of Ghana’s economy, documentation and cost of accessing the funds differ from one institution to another. A significant number of victims find the process challenging, with 46% of those facing difficulties ultimately abandoning it. The bureaucratic nature of the process, its expenses, and a lack of knowledge further deter people from pursuing their rightful claims. The effects of these bureaucratic structures on human dignity are enormous including school dropouts, family debt and poverty, ejection from homes for families living in rented apartments, poor nutrition, mental health challenges, child trafficking and re-trafficking, and other social vices.

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Lack of Transparency: Many financial institutions and account owners fail to inform beneficiaries or NoK about their status, with 80.5% unaware that they were listed as NoK. Additionally, 62.7% of beneficiaries are not informed about the assets they are entitled to, creating a significant information gap. Privacy issues are of great concern, however, it is imperative to ensure transparency especially for banks to adhere to the Banks and Specialized Deposit-taking Institutions Act, 2016 (Act 930) and take adequate steps to contact account holders at least three (3) months prior to an account failing into dormancy by serving a “Dormant Account Notice” through physical visitation, phone call or short messaging Services, Email, or any agreed form of communication during account initiation. The regulated financial institution should also contact the “Next of Kin” of the account holder when efforts to locate the Dormant Account Holder prove futile.

Lack of Written Wills: A staggering 85.50% of participants in the study do not have a written will, which sometimes leads to inheritance fraud and complications in the distribution of assets. This implies that 9 out of 10 Ghanaians do not have written wills and that many more Ghanaians are dying intestate, a major problem that is widening the poverty gap in the country. Reasons for this lack of will vary, including a belief in family inheritance practices, fear of spiritual influences, conflict among family members, and ignorance of the process.

In light of these findings, the study recommends several key actions to address these challenges:

There’s a need to streamline the process by standardizing the information required for the process across all financial institutions to help reduce the stress victims go through to claim funds. This helps in simplifying the bureaucratic structures involved in accessing deceased funds to reduce abandonment and frustration among NoK and beneficiaries.

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Public Education: Conducting a comprehensive public education campaign which will inform citizens about the importance of creating wills and the steps involved, has become crucial at this time. Conversely, without a written Will should also not be a benchmark to prevent eligible individuals have had contracts with the Insurance and pension firms but one where there are no red tape and administrative barriers, militating economic prosperity. During the insurance and pension subscriptions, one-on-one education is needed on the claim processes to enlighten both policyholders, beneficiaries, and Next of Kin.

Increased Transparency: Ensure greater transparency and accountability in the process, with frequent communication between financial institutions and beneficiaries. The purpose of the Next of Kin must be put into practice to enhance transparency.

Policy Reforms: Revise or formulate new policies and laws to standardize the requirements needed to access the funds of deceased individuals, making the process easier and more equitable. An example is that the BOG, stakeholders, and financial institutions specifically the banks should make a Point of Death or Payable on Death (POD) form available and accessible when creating a bank account. POD

There should also be the inclusion of national identification cards when taking information about NoKs for easy identification. This will heal the identification crises leading to long investigative actions before benefits are paid.

Protecting private property like the funds at the banks and insurance companies do not mean the funds of the deceased should be kept by the state regulators forever. The government should not have the monopoly to hold on to funds of the deceased relatives that could be used to turn the fortunes of a family. The Bank of Ghana should find appropriate ways to return all monies kept, to the family members of accountholders.

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The findings of the research emphasize the urgent need to address these challenges, ensuring that the funds of deceased family members can be accessed by NoK, beneficiaries, and nominees without unnecessary hurdles. These actions can significantly contribute to reducing poverty and dependency in Ghana, improving the economic well-being of its citizens, and promoting a more equitable society.

For more information or to access the full report, please contact 0503228878 or send us an email: joan.sefa@ilapi.org

About ILAPI

The Institute for Liberty and Policy Innovation (ILAPI) is an award-winning Free Enterprise Public Policy Research think tank that won the 2017 Think Tank Shark Tank Award in South Africa and was a Finalist in the 2019 edition held in Kenya.

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