Providing for the people you care about

CASE 1: WHEN THERE IS NO WILL

Ms Ang Kim Lan of Goodwins Law Corporation cites a "sad case" where there was no will and the distribution was made to a beneficiary that the deceased would not have approved if he had had the choice.

Many years ago, Mr Peter Koh (not his real name) threw his wife and three young children out of the house. When the youngest son - who was unmarried and had no children - died at 35, Mr Koh turned up at the funeral wake and demanded half of his son's estate, in accordance to the Intestate Succession Act.

The deceased's mother cried and said it was unfair because she and the deceased's father had already divorced.

"I had to tell her that a divorce does not sever the parental ties between father and son, and that the son could have done a will to avoid this," says Ms Ang.

CASE 2: ENSURING PREFERRED BENEFICIARIES GET A SHARE

Mr Michael Lee (not his real name), a private tutor aged 60, was engaged in a protracted divorce from his second wife, 35. They had no children but he had three sons from his first marriage.

Midway through the proceedings, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of liver cancer and given a few months to live. He knew he would not survive to see through his divorce. "Without the court ruling on the division of assets, he knew that his wife would inherit the matrimonial home, a landed property in their joint names. This is because upon his death, the "right of survivorship" principle would be triggered and the wife would become the sole owner," says Mr Amolat Singh of Amolat & Partners.

So Mr Lee severed the joint tenancy, which then became a tenancy-in-common in equal shares (each one therefore owning 50 per cent). He then made a will leaving his 50 per cent share of the property to his three sons from his previous marriage.

He died a few months later but with peace of mind that he had managed to do what he had wanted - to provide for his three sons.

CASE 3: ENSURING PREFERRED BENEFICIARIES GET A SHARE

Madam Mandy Kaur (not her real name), who was in her late 80s, wanted her will done after her husband died. She wanted it to benefit only her three daughters and not her son.

Unfortunately, she suffered from a partial stroke and deteriorated rapidly.

Mr Simon Tan of Attorneys Inc recalls that he was asked to complete the signing of her will when she was under intensive care.

"As she could no longer speak, she could communicate only by gestures. I had no choice but to instruct her to squeeze my hand if she understood the clauses in her will as I explained them to her and to let go if she did not agree," he says.

Fortunately, the doctor in attendance was satisfied that she knew what she was doing and agreed to witness the signing of the will.

Madam Kaur died soon after signing the will by affixing her right thumb-print.

If she had died without a will, her son would have received a share of her estate.

CASE 4: ENSURING GUARDIANS FOR MINORS

Mr Joseph Wang (not his real name), a general manager aged 43, has two children aged eight and 10. He travels frequently for business, often with his wife.

Mr Singh says: "He is concerned that if both he and his wife were to perish in a disaster, especially in the present climate of terrorist activities, his children might be caught in a tussle between both sides of the family."

The family members on both sides have different views about how the children should be brought up, particularly as one side is ultra- religious and believes that the children should be raised according to the teachings of that religion.

Both the husband and wife know that there would be a fight over who should have the say with regard to the children's upbringing.

The solution was to prepare a will that addressed the children's issues of care and control, and religious upbringing, says Mr Singh.

Mr Wang owns three private apartments - two of which are fully paid up - and has provided for a power of advancement, that is, that one apartment may be sold off to fund the children's overseas education. In addition, he has provided for a power of maintenance. This allows the rental income to be used to fund the usual and routine expenses and upkeep.

Mr Wang is now relieved and happy that he has tied up the loose ends and his children would be brought up as close as possible to how he and his wife would have done it.

CASE 5: ENSURING THAT AN ONLY CHILD IS EXCLUDED FROM ESTATE

Mr Jimmy Heng (not his real name), a 64-year-old retired lawyer, has a grown-up daughter who has never visited him nor kept in contact as he had divorced his first wife soon after the girl was born.

His first wife had remarried and taken the daughter overseas with his consent. After that, he had lost contact and despite his efforts to establish a bond with his daughter, he was unable to do so.

Mr Heng owns a landed property and an apartment, all of which are fully paid up, in addition to a big portfolio of blue-chip shares. His net worth is estimated to be $12 million.

Feeling that all his sincere attempts to reach out to and reconcile with his daughter were spurned, he made a will to ensure that she would not be able to claim anything upon his death, says Mr Singh.

As Mr Heng has been very close to his three nephews and two nieces, he wants to give half of his estate to them in equal shares. In addition, he wants to provide a scholarship to a deserving student each year to pursue a master's degree. He also wants to provide for a book prize for the top final- year law student of each cohort.

In his will, he appointed his former partners to be executors and has every confidence that they would act in accordance with his wishes.

Lorna Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Providing for the people you care about'. Print Edition | Subscribe