Other than the list of people you plan to spook in your afterlife, we are guessing you haven't put much thought into life once you are not part of it anymore.
But if there is one legacy you want to leave behind for your loved ones, let it be a hassle-free estate! Besieged by grief, the last thing they need is having to run from pillar to post handling the haphazard financial affairs you leave behind.
So what should you do to ensure a smooth transition of your assets after you pass on? Simple. Write a will.
1. WHAT IS A WILL?
Where there is a will, there is peace of mind!
A will is a written and signed document that leaves behind specific instructions on how, to whom and how much your property, valuables and other assets are to be bequeathed after your death. In Singapore, this is governed under the Wills Act.
2. WHEN SHOULD YOU WRITE A WILL?
Ideally when you are alive!
Technically, you can write out a will any day after you are 21 and this would remain valid too till the end. But suppose the wedding bells ring, be prepared to throw this will away along with the confetti! By law, once you get married, any will which is made before that is invalid.
In the event of your demise, your spouse is entitled to a share of your assets. Post marriage, you will need to go back to the drawing board and create a fresh will if you wish to include beneficiaries other than your spouse.
3. WHAT SHOULD THE WILL CONTAIN?
Unless you want your relatives playing 'Eeny meeny miny moe' to distribute your assets, we suggest you create an air-tight will that leaves no room for second-guessing.
Here are a few pointers on what you can include:
- A list of all your assets that are only in your name and not as a joint account
- A list of all your liabilities and how they can be paid off after your death. For instance, you may earmark a flat whose proceeds can go towards repayment of an outstanding loan
- The list of beneficiaries to whom you wish to bequeath your estate to and most importantly, the percentage share they are to receive
- If you have young children, it is advisable to appoint a trusted guardian who can watch over their share of the assets, until they become adults
- A clause to distribute any unaccounted asset to the person or organisation of your choice
4. HOW SHOULD YOU GO ABOUT IT?
READ IT. RE-READ IT. REPEAT.
Once you have drafted the will, proofread it carefully. That means no sneaking around on Netflix while you do it! Think ahead, anticipate and try to make provisions for different situations.
You don't need to be a legal eagle to do this but if you aren't comfortable making a will on your own, you can hire a lawyer. This can cost anything from S$200 to S$2000, depending on the complexity of your will.
APPOINT AN EXECUTOR
Preferably two. Never hurts to have a backup, right? An executor is a person in charge of looking over and distributing your assets after your death according to the instructions you have specified in your will.
Experts caution against appointing one of your beneficiaries as the executor to avoid any conflict. Hiring an impartial third person, (or a law firm if you can afford it) who is willing and has the time and drive to help disburse your estate, is the way to go. Sweeten the deal with a token gift bequeathed to the executor's name. Now, who can say no to that?
You need two witnesses who can testify that they signed the will in your presence. Play it smart and entrust this responsibility to younger people so there is a better chance that they will outlive you. Anyone can be a witness, except your spouse and beneficiaries to your will.
DEPOSIT YOUR WILL WITH THE WILLS REGISTRY
We've all been there. Bang in the middle of writing your will, a thought strikes you. What if the will isn't discovered after your death? It is not a situation you would want to put your loved ones through, so it is always better to inform two or three confidantes about the place you have stashed your will. An even better idea is to register your will with the Wills Registry.
For a fee of S$50, you can register with the Wills Registry, maintained by the Public Trustee, which is a confidential registry to store information about your will. This registry will have information like the date of signing, where to find the will and details of the person who has made the will but not the whole will itself. This information will be accessible only to the executor of the will and next of kin when they produce relevant documents.
5. WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR WILL IF YOU MOVE PLACES?
If you have made your will in Singapore and have acquired property overseas, your will should be considered legal in most countries following the common law. But don't forget to do your research to make sure it is valid before you freeze up your will. When it comes to legal guidelines across countries, its different strokes for different folks!
What if you made your will overseas and you have assets in Singapore? The executor of your will is required to apply for a Grant of Probate that allows them to execute the instructions you have written down in your will.
6. HOW TO CHANGE A WILL?
Perhaps your beneficiary passed away before you. Maybe you acquired a new asset after your old will was drafted. Maybe you're just bored and want to fiddle with your will. Whatever be the case, there are two ways to go about it:
A) You can attach an additional document called Codicil to your original will and write-out the changes you want to make.
B) Create a fresh will that is reflective of the changes you want to make. Don't forget to inform the executor of your will about the revision. And please get rid of the old will!
7. WHAT DOES CONTESTING A WILL MEAN?
You won't be around to see this, but sometimes, despite your best intentions, the will you leave behind may be embroiled in a dispute. Your will may be contested or challenged by someone citing an improper execution or unfair distribution of assets.
It could also be claimed that you were coerced into writing the contents or that you were not, ahem, of sound mind when it was written. If any such situation arises, the matter goes to court and a hearing will decide its outcome. If the court declares your will to be invalid, your assets will be disbursed according to the Intestate Succession Act.
This article was first published in BankBazaar.sg.