It is no doubt tough to think about but now that you have kids, it’s important to have a will. MH finds out what you need to know.
WORDS STEFFI TAN
Most people put off making a will, perhaps feeling it an uncomfortable or sobering act. Yet leaving a will is probably one of the most responsible things that parents can do to make sure that their child is taken care of should anything unfortunate happen.
What is a Will?
A will is a legal document that records the wishes of the person making it, known as the testator. According to Patrick Chang, director at SimplyWills Pte Ltd, a will not only handles matters related to the distribution of assets but also allows the appointment of a guardian who will take care of any young children left behind.
What Happens if You Die Without One?
Without a valid will, your estate will be distributed in accordance with Singapore’s Intestate Succession Act, says Gloria James-Civetta, managing partner at Gloria James-Civetta & Co. What this means is your spouse will inherit half of your estate while your children equally split the remaining half.
Even with this Act, the ambiguity due to the absence of a specific will could still result in legal contests over inheritance. In addition, the courts will decide on the guardian for your children, someone who you might not have chosen for yourself.
A will with clear instructions can help avoid such potentially complicated situations. Time and legal costs are also saved through other processes. For example, when a person dies without leaving a will, there is a lengthy and complex legal process to obtain a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’ before the estate can be distributed. This is as compared to the simpler court procedure and lesser documentation required to obtain the ‘Grant of Probate’ when there is a will present.
What Makes a Valid Will?
A common misconception is that a lawyer is needed to write a will. But anyone can write one as long as they are well-informed. According to James-Civetta, for a will to be considered valid it must meet the following requirements:
Writing a Will Yourself
The first step to writing a will is to make a record of all your assets. This includes real property, also known as immovable assets, such as house or land, and personal property, which refers to movable assets such as cash in bank accounts, motor vehicles, stocks and shares, memberships and more, says Chang.
You should also note that assets such as joint property and accounts, insurance policies, and balances in your Central Provident Fund (CPF) account are excluded in a will. For insurance and CPF, nominations made under each separate scheme will entitle the individual nominees to receive these assets instead.
The second step is to name a key person as the executor of your will, who will be in charge of carrying out the instructions in your will, such as distributing your assets accordingly and paying off debts (if any).
Pick a person whom you trust and whom can handle such financial duties. Most people choose relatives but a lawyer is also a good option. And if there are minors involved, two executors are required, reminds James-Civetta.
Third, make a list of your beneficiaries. Write in detail the specific assets you would like to leave each person, and when he or she should receive it. In the case where a beneficiary is a minor, a trustee also has to be appointed – a person who will hold and manage the assets until the beneficiary becomes a legal adult.
Fourth, choose a guardian for your children. Your surviving spouse is naturally your first choice, but to prepare for the worst-case scenario where both of you are unable to care for your children, it would be wise to name an alternate guardian.
It is probably difficult for you to imagine someone else parenting your child. To start off, some things you might want to consider would be how closely the candidate’s life values and religious beliefs match your own. Other factors you could take into account are, for example, the existing relationship between your child and the candidate, and whether he or she has the financial and emotional resources to take this role on.
Finally, tie up the loose ends. You could add in a residuary clause that distributes any remainder of your estate according to your wishes, says James-Civetta. This will be useful in the instance where one of your beneficiaries die before you and the assets originally meant for him or her become the remainder.
It is also recommended that you deposit your will at the Wills Registry, which is maintained by the Insolvency and Public Trustee’s Office under the Ministry of Law. Although this is not a necessary step to make a will valid, this makes known the presence of your will and its contents will remain confidential until your passing.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
With the investment of some time and energy, you could definitely write a will yourself. However, hiring a lawyer buys you professional expertise and experience, helping to cover all bases and highlight blind spots or special clauses you might have possibly missed. For example, some of the points above do not apply to Muslims who follow separate provisions under the Syariah Law.
What’s more, it is not as costly as you might think. Chang charges clients $250 for a standard package and if both spouses sign up together, they pay a lower fee of $400 for two separate wills. The charges for a simple will are similar at Gloria James-Civetta & Co, and the law firm also provides senior citizen rates (which start from $120). Such firms also help with the drafting of more complex wills should the customer require it.
Drawing up a will is a necessary and relatively simple task. After all, parents do all they can to safeguard their little ones, and a will, like an education savings or health insurance plan, will ensure that he or she is well-protected not only now but in the future.