You and your spouse have been married for 10 years or more and have children together.
You both have been working for close to 20 years and earn good salaries, having grown in your careers to senior management.
Were either of you to die today, you would leave behind handsome benefits.
Since you are your spouse’s immediate relative, it is expected that you have listed each other as next of kin in the documents that every new employee signs at the start of employment.
But is this really the case? Not necessarily. Mwikali Muthiani, a HR practitioner, says that while most married employees list spouses as next of kin, not all do.
“In such cases, and this is from cases I am privy to, you will find that the marriage is not stable and that there are trust issues, which would explain why the employee would, for instance, list their parents and children as their next of kin and leave out their wife or husband,” Ms Muthiani explains.
Dorcas Mutheu, a career banker, is a 48-year-old mother of two. She divorced her husband six years ago and says he was never listed as her next of kin. She explains why.
“My marriage was not going well, so to protect my children, I listed them as my next of kin. I knew that were I to die, my husband would not have given them the kind of life I envisioned for them because his priorities would be different,” Ms Mutheu says.
Fearing he would ship the children to the village, she appointed a trustee to manage her account for them in case she died before her husband and wrote down in detail the kind of life she wanted for them.
Most men, Ms Muthiani points out, tend to list their mothers as their next of kin alongside their wives and children, while women, who she describes as “more trusting”, are more likely to appoint only their husband and children, awarding the biggest share of their benefits to their husband.
“Women rarely list their mothers, (or parents for that matter) as their next of kin unless they are single parents. But most men, married or not, tend to award their mothers a percentage of their dues,” says Ms Muthiani, the MD of MillenialHR.
In the course of her career, she has dealt with two cases where the companies were forced to withhold benefits after the wives of the deceased challenged the next of kin listed – the men had left their accrued benefits to their parents.
“The two women presented letters of administration and also pointed out that their husbands had listed them and their children as dependants in the medical insurance scheme provided by the companies, a factor we could not argue with,” says Ms Muthiani.
In these two cases, the companies decided to withhold payment until the wives and their parents in-law came to an agreement.
She says that per the documents, the “right thing” would have been to pay, not to withhold, but they had to question whether it was logical to pay all the money to relatives who had not been listed as dependants and did not need it as much as the children left behind – in the end, the children won.
Ms Esther Mugambi, a HR manager with a mid-size company, says that more women than men list their spouses as beneficiaries or major beneficiaries.
“Once, I authorised payment of benefits of a married male employee to his mother and sisters – he left nothing for his wife; while in another case, a male employee had left all his benefits to his girlfriend and the child they had together. His wife and their children got nothing,” she says.
In another case, a male employee had named his mother as his sole next of kin, but when she came to collect the money, she asked the company to transfer all the benefits to her son’s wife and their young child, explaining that she did not need it.
“But such cases are rare, at least in my experience,” says Ms Mugambi.
Dr James Kariuki, a lecturer of sociology at the University of Nairobi, says there are several factors at play that could explain why a man would favour his mother over his wife, though he is quick to point out that this does not apply to all men.
“From a psychoanalytic view, there is a tendency for men to be close to their mothers. So, given this closeness, it would only make sense that they would want their mother to benefit from what they leave behind,” explains Dr Kariuki.
Another factor, he points out, could be mistrust between the couple, an indicator that the relationship is not working.
This is likely to happen in what he calls “conflict-habituated marriages”, where there is, for instance, physical assault or where the husband and wife often quarrel or disagree, meaning there is no harmony or goodwill.
He adds that our society regards a woman as someone in transit, one that might end up with another man or one that might return to her father’s home should the marriage not work. So, why invest in her future? Some men would argue.
Also worth noting, Dr Kariuki adds, is that some men are generally hesitant to commit, unlike women who are more likely to fully commit to a relationship once they fall in love.
Employment lawyer Anne Babu says that the only benefits an employee can nominate are insurance and pension, all other benefits an employee is entitled to fall under terminal dues, whose payout is guided by the law of succession.
“Terminal dues include the deceased's salary and accrued leave. These are payable to the court-appointed legal representative in accordance with Section 24 of the Employment Act. Insurance payments and pension are payable to the deceased's nominated beneficiary. Sacco deposits form part of the deceased's estate though, from experience, most Saccos readily release the funds to the nominated next of kin or beneficiary,” explains the advocate.