The Sunday Times Invest editor Lorna Tan's unmarried aunt died without a will, and one of her siblings was cut out of her estate because of a spelling error.
Their father's name was printed wrongly on the living sibling's birth certificate, and that was enough to deny her access to her sister's estate, said Ms Tan on Wednesday.
But Ms Tan's family was close-knit enough that those who received the inheritance split it to include more members of the family, such as relatives who helped take care of the aunt who died.
That incident happened more than 10 years ago, but it highlighted to Ms Tan, 54, the importance of having a will.
Ms Tan, who wrote three books on personal finance, retirement planning and investment, noted that the incident could have been avoided if her aunt had made a will before her death to list out who gets what.
Ms Tan's third book, Retire Smart, has sold more than 12,000 copies since its launch in March last year.
In her talk, she said a will can go some way in making sure that family members are well taken care of. "We want to ensure sufficient cash and funds for family members to... carry on with their lifestyle."
She was giving the audience tips on how to ensure that a person's estate will be properly handled after his or her death, as part of askST @ NLB, a series of free talks.
Approximate number of people at ST Invest editor Lorna Tan's talk.
Ms Tan said a will is a way to avoid drama that can occur, as emotions tend to run high during and after the death of a family member.
It is also good to set up a Lasting Power of Attorney to appoint someone trustworthy to act on the individual's behalf should he or she become mentally incapacitated, she added.
Another way to sidestep conflict is to have an advance medical directive (AMD), which is a signed legal document to indicate that a person does not want any extraordinary life-sustaining treatment in the event of becoming terminally ill and unconscious.
Ms Tan urged the audience to consider drawing up a will and an AMD, as well as to specify who will receive their Central Provident Fund savings.
But she recognised that these can be difficult topics to broach.
She recalled how her father teared up when she talked to him three years ago about writing a will when he was about 80 years old.
"It's an emotional affair," she said. "But it's a necessary step."
The first time she drew up her will was 20 years ago, when she realised that she and her husband were going to be on the same flight for a work trip, and it occurred to her that her two children, then aged five and six, would need legal guardians if the plane crashed.
"It's been a learning process, including deciding where to put the will," she said, adding that the will is a living document that can be updated and reviewed whenever necessary.
AskST @ NLB is a monthly collaboration between The Straits Times and the National Library Board.
The sessions are also streamed live on The Straits Times' Facebook page.
About 300 people attended Ms Tan's session held at the Central Public Library in Victoria Street.